Monodraught Windcatchers Complement Architecture and Functionality of Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

With the development of its new waterside theatre, Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) has created a stunning landmark within the Buckinghamshire county town that will stage a wide programme of events and entertainments that are expected to attract up to 300,000 visitors each year.

Created by the internationally renowned theatre architects RHWL and shortlisted for the ‘Public Building Project of the Year’ in the Building Awards 2011, the new theatre has been inspired by local features, with the undulating roof reflecting the shape of the neighbouring Chiltern Hills and the use of timber columns reminiscent of surrounding woodland areas.

Complementing the natural elements of the building’s design is a natural ventilation strategy created by Monodraught. The thirteen windcatcher natural ventilation systems installed in the main foyer and stairs area, the function suite foyer, the gallery, an administrative office and a meeting room are controlled by a Monodraught iNVent system covering ten zones within the theatre.

RHWL specialises in auditoria buildings and has designed over 200 around the world in the past 30 years. In the mid-1970s the practice began questioning the use of mechanical ventilation unless it was absolutely necessary as it was complicated to install, and expensive to run and maintain.

RHWL’s Norman Bragg explains: “the move towards natural ventilation began with openable windows, controlled by theatre management and, provided there wasn’t too much noise from traffic and other external sources it did work. Obviously natural ventilation is not suitable in areas of performance buildings such as the auditoria, because they need to be, in effect, sealed boxes.

However, there are other opportunities such as foyers and public areas within theatre buildings where natural ventilation makes perfect sense, so our objective is always to use it wherever possible. And in these modern, environmentally conscious times, it is also the right thing to do.

However, within the waterside theatre RHWL had reservations about openable windows in the facade and therefore looked to the roof for a viable alternative. Coincidentally, Norman Bragg had worked in the Middle East where for centuries people have experienced natural ventilation provided by iconic wind towers.

“When the M&E contractor Whitby Bird suggested Monodraught Windcatchers – the modern interpretation of the wind towers – we were very easily persuaded and I thought it was exactly the right way to go. In the waterside theatre the foyer roof circumvents the building’s two auditoria providing an ideal opportunity to install the thirteen windcatcher natural ventilation systems.

“They work well within the design of the building and, both internally and externally, form part of the architecture of the theatre itself. Functionally, they also work in the three storey foyers, and for me it is very satisfying to have been able to use them where possible in the public areas,” said Mr Bragg.

The new theatre is part of a major redevelopment programme for the town which includes a new Waitrose, hotel, the headquarters of the National Enterprise Academy and a new 265,000sqft development site for retail and leisure.

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