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The Challenge of Sustainable Theatres

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Lara Kerrison
University of Bath | UK
Few of the comprehensive texts on theatre architecture have addressed sustainable design in any depth. Recent documents such as the Mayor of London’s Green Theatre report, the Energising Culture report by Julie’s Bicycle and the evaluation of the Ecovenue project have been the most up-to-date accounts. However, these texts tend to gloss over the difficulties, failures or misguided attempts to implement positive environmental measures. They largely focus on carbon figures and utility bills while underplaying the broader social and artistic implications of environmental strategies. This paper addresses these shortcomings, presenting findings from visits to 25 theatre buildings alongside interviews with theatre designers, technicians, consultants, engineers, clients and audience members.

Although the contribution of theatres to total UK carbon emissions is only a fraction of that associated with commerce and industry, the creative arts sector has been expected to lead the way in meeting climate change targets by capitalising upon their unique educational and community role to inspire and influence.

Struggling with funding cuts and shoestring budgets, many venues have put environmental sustainability quite low on the agenda. Increasingly, however, demonstrated environmental awareness is becoming a condition of public funding and planning permission. Facing increasingly volatile energy supplies and ever-tighter regulations, theatres are under growing pressure to act.

Against this background, sustainable theatre design has often meant concentrating on measures with environmental benefits alone. At best, this diverts investment from approaches with more far-reaching sustainability implications. At worst, addressing environmental issues in isolation in order to boost green credentials or to tick boxes can have a detrimental effect on audience experience. This paper addresses some common misconceptions about theatres’ energy consumption and some environmental policies and benchmarks which have skewed sustainability priorities. The paper considers some of the broader factors which inform the design and day-to-day operation of theatre venues. Focusing largely on existing buildings, it examines previous successes and shortcomings in theatres' search for sustainability. Lessons may be learned so that the ‘green’ measures adopted in future new-build and renovation projects will also make sense in the wider context of financial, social and artistic

Lara Kerrison

Mr Mark Wilson Jones
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