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Case Study: Redesigning Gala Durham Theatre and Cinema

Here in Durham, we love our Gala Theatre and Cinema. It’s got the feeling of a local theatre; hosting children’s events and festivals, but whilst still attracting some big national names. I’ve enjoyed visiting there many times with my family and so when I was asked to be a part of its transformation, I felt extremely excited and privileged.

The main public spaces hadn’t had a refresh for many years and were starting to look a little unloved. The café felt too ordinary for a theatre and lacked that magic! Plus, people weren’t stopping for preshow drinks.

So, I was invited to help inject that atmosphere! A place that people would want to come to before a show, for an evening drink, and to soak up the excitement. But where people would still come during the day for coffee with drinks or a full English.

Our first challenge was to remove some of the existing artwork from the space. Don’t get me wrong, I love art, but these pieces were again looking tired, and wouldn’t fit with what we were trying to achieve. There were large concrete bench style installations that had lost their purpose and where now taking up seating space. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to remove them altogether so I had to design seating that could slot over the top. I also wanted to break the space up as it was currently one long area. This would help add a cosier feeling. So that’s where the long, curved seating idea came from. It is also going to be practical at busy events.

I was then keen that as you stepped into the building you immediately got the feeling of being in a theatre space. So now the box office gleams, and a large screen can show adverts for up coming events, clips from current events and reels to whet your theatre appetite!

My other main challenge was all the wall space! It took me quite a while to come up with the solution to install the panelling. I wanted whatever I did to feel part of the building, not an add-on, and so I turned to the building itself for inspiration. The design of the panelling is based on the existing shapes of the windows with diagonal pieces to add energy and movement.

I also suggested we changed the name. It was currently called Intervals Café, which worked well for the location but to create the mind shift that was required to help people think of this as the theatre bar/café I felt a new name was required. I proposed a few options, and The Gala Lounge was an all-round favourite.

There were so many things that inspired me as I was designing this, from the shapes of the windows in the cathedral, which you can see reflected in the patterns in the upholstery. To the nature we enjoy here in County Durham (hopefully after Covid restrictions have passed they will be able to add in the planting). To the arches for our viaduct which you can see dotted throughout the scheme.

I really wanted to create a place that felt part of Durham, part of the building and in keeping with how the people, including myself, will use it. I really hope you will visit soon! Follow me on social media for more pictures, behind the scenes, before and afters, plus my other projects!

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