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Solstice Arts Centre

Navanm Co. Meath, Ireland
1 of 14Ros Kavanagh

The site for this project occupies what was the historic market centre of Navan but now feels like a void used only for carparking except on Fridays when a market still takes place here. On the perimeter of the void are two stone churches with their spires and their dark purple slate roofs. But it is one of the most difficult spots in the town where the road infrastructure dominates over built fabric.

Conceived as a courthouse on top of a theatre, the brief changed during construction. A private introverted courthouse above and the open public rooms for the community and the theatre below. The courtroom at roof level was to be used by the Theatre groups when the courts were not in session. The arts centre presence would somehow humanise the court activities.The theatre of the courtroom would be used by actors. Three separate points of entry necessary for the courts were to be shared with the theatre. When the courts did not proceed the top floor was ‘converted’ into an exhibition space.

The Theatre Design

Architects generated a sense of intimacy by making an organic contoured floor. This sets up a dynamic relationship between the audience and the stage and gives the sense of foreshortening the space. A point of reference was Hans Sharoun’s theatre design. A window to the sky and a window to the entrance foyer allow some natural light into the space,provide a connection to the outside world, and allow the visitor a view into the theatre on entry to the building. These can be closed off during performances.

The serpentine foyer wall wraps around the theatre is designed like a ‘curtain’ with varying levels of opacity and transparency, revealing the activity behind, but not fully, attracting attention by day and especially in the evenings when it will read like a ribbon of light suspended over the pavement, the audiences visible from the Fair Green as a sort of ‘shadow play’. The hovering grey-black marble mosaic slab, which cantilevers over the civic space, invites the public to enter into the realm of theatre without passing any door. This material will fade over time and was chosen to match the colour of the slated large roofscapes of the adjacent churches. It has a white fossil marking as does the limestone plinth.

The Structure

The enclosing wall of the raised walled garden is in fact a large upstand beam achieving large scale spans.This beam minimises the necessity for columns and supports, making free spaces below.The three independent staircases required for the working of the courts.The ‘defendents’ stairs and is now used as backstage access to the flytower and for the delivery of art works to the gallery above.The ‘judges’ stairwell has been appropriated for gallery storage.