11 May 2023

Curtain up on design partner for Canberra Theatre Centre redevelopment

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation

An early concept design of the proposed new Canberra Theatre. Images: ACT Government.

The Canberra Theatre Centre redevelopment has taken a giant leap forward with the announcement of the consortium selected to create designs for the project, which will be the centrepiece of a rejuvenated cultural precinct in the city.

The ACT Government has today named Australian firm Architectus, Danish architects Henning Larsen and international theatre designers ARUP as the design partner consortium after a six-month selection process.

READ ALSO City Renewal Authority releases landmark site for sale

The consortium was one of three shortlisted in November. Its winning tender included early preliminary designs depicting a new theatre building with a bold and sophisticated façade treatment that references the formal modernist and brutalist landmarks of Canberra.

Architectus is responsible for major projects, including the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), the redevelopment of the heritage-listed State Library Victoria and the Sydney Modern Project nearing completion at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Henning Larsen are the lead designers for the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen.

concert hall

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavik. Photo: Harpa.

The government said the internationally recognised architecture firms demonstrated they had the best plan to deliver a theatre centre that integrated the existing landscape and future vision for a thriving Canberra Civic and Cultural District.

It said the decision was supported by the fact that the team that forms the consortium is made up of local, national and international specialists in innovative theatre and architectural design.

proposed theatre interior

What the new 2000-seat lyric theatre could look like. It would be able to stage major productions.

The design partner would make the most of local insights by establishing a local office and partnering with Canberra’s industry leaders.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the redeveloped Theatre Centre, including a new 2000-seat lyric theatre with a much bigger stage than the current one, would put Canberra on the arts map and ensure the city could host the top-tier productions it currently misses out on, including contemporary music, comedy, circus, musicals, ballet and opera.

He said the current theatre would be upgraded with an option for a flat floor setup so Canberra could attract more mid-sized concerts.

“These venues, new and refurbished, will be highly utilised by local, national and international performances,” he said. “There will be hundreds of nights of performance each year. This will boost our hospitality and tourism industries.”

He said the winning entry showed a respect for Canberra’s architectural history but was also rooted in the present.

“If you take a look at the indicative images that we’re releasing today gives you a sense of a theatre that stands out within its landscape, that is, of course sympathetic to our city’s architectural history but is also contemporary and meets the needs of our growing city,” Mr Barr said.

He said several hundreds of millions of dollars had been set aside for the project but he would also approach the Commonwealth to contribute to the project.

“It’s not necessary for them to invest for the project to go ahead, but I think it does present an opportunity for them to partner with the Territory government in creating a national level cultural precinct for the national capital,” he said.

Construction was expected to begin mid-decade after designs were finalised and be completed by 2030.

woman on stage

Robyn Nevin on The Mousetrap set: new theatre was not just good for Canberra but also good for the country. Photo: Ian Bushnell

Arts Minister Tara Cheyne said the redeveloped Canberra Theatre Centre would be a city-shaping project that would bring us closer to the government’s vision for Canberra to be recognised as Australia’s arts capital.

“The design partner has understood and shares our vision for a world-class venue with architectural excellence befitting its location as the heart of the planned Canberra Civic and Cultural District,” she said.

“Our vision for the renewed Canberra Theatre Centre will support the growth of Canberra’s live performance sector by creating spaces for artists and arts workers to develop, rehearse and perform productions.”

Ms Cheyne said the government wanted Canberra’s performing artists to be partners in the project, announcing that it was inviting expressions of interest for its performing arts reference group to advise government on the sector’s priorities.

Architectus principal and sector leader, public, Dr Stephen Long, said his firm, together with Henning Larsen and Arup, were honoured to be selected from the impressive line-up of international practices that were shortlisted.

“Our collective will play a key role in fuelling the creative spirit of Canberra by designing a world-class experience for the city’s thriving Canberra Civic and Cultural District,” he said.

“We’ve assembled a team of internationally recognised experts in the design and delivery of inspiring places for arts culture and entertainment.

“For many of us, the project will be a career highlight, creating a theatre that holds its place in the context of Canberra’s ensemble of national culture, arts buildings and environments in Canberra’s civic and cultural district.”

For stage and screen legend Robyn Nevin, in town to direct The Mouse Trap, the better the theater, technically and in terms of of sound and shape, the better the experience for performers and that meant a better experience for the audience.

But a new theatre was not just good for Canberra but also good for the country, she said

“It’s very exciting, because it does impact on the national health of theatre and performing arts, and when politicians give to the arts, it’s a great day for the nation,” Ms Nevin said.

It also meant new work being developed in the nation’s capital, “and that can be shared with the rest of the country and the rest of the world”.

READ ALSO National institutions score $90 million budget boost

The government said the design partner would now commence the design process with insights from theatre users and other technical experts.

Stakeholders and the community would also be able to influence the project, with consultation planned for later this year.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
HiddenDragon8:39 pm 12 May 23

The Mousetrap is a clever story, and Robyn Nevin is a gem, but a media event with a touring production of a mid-century British whodunit aimed at the Axminster and chintz set may not have been the best place to proclaim an ambition to be the 21st century arts capital of Australia – unless the more realistic ambition is to be the provincial arts capital, in which case – bullseye!

Nick Stevens10:20 am 12 May 23

Looks great, hope it’s realised.

Crazed_Loner1:10 am 12 May 23

Did you not read the article, nor pay attention to any previous public discussion about this? The current theatre is too small to attract a lot of acts that now bypass Canberra, and the stage is too small for some types of performances. And no, it’s not being demolished. You’re welcome.

whats wrong with the existing theatre? and why does it need to be knocked down for this new one, rather than have two theatres in the city?

Looking at the site plan, it appears that half of the parking on the Northbourne Ave / London Cct corner will disappear. So even less parking for locals in the theatre area.

Am I seeing that right?

If so, I guess ‘Barr the Builder’ is only looking to attract out-of-towners to the new precinct, so the “investment will support our economy, particularly the tourism, hospitality and accommodation sectors.”

You actually realise that there are hundreds and hundreds of empty parking spots in the civic region every evening.

Capital Retro7:58 am 12 May 23

No, there aren’t any near the Canberra Theatre.

Obviously you have never tried to find a park to attend a performance at either Canberra Theatre or The Playhouse on a Friday night.

With all of the developments in the area, they are replacing parking with multistorey underground parking, although it isn’t always like for like and not always in the same spot.

Part of it however is definitely the government’s drive to get people to use public transport instead of driving.

@Justsaying – Obviously, you have never tried to not park in the closest car park and walk a little further. There are hundreds and hundreds of empty car parks within 10 minutes walk of the Canberra Theatre on a Friday night. I know this from personal experience.

“No, there aren’t many next to the Canberra Theatre.” Fixed it for you @Capital Retro

“I know this from personal sanctimonious experience” Fixed it for you @thehutch

The pictured concept looks ghastly and would intrude further on the once-beautiful City Hill. Theatres need a High Roof for sets & curtains, obviously, but can we please get away from unimaginative, brutal, hard angles? And spare us from an ‘Award-Winning Design’ which almost always means ‘bad use of space, expensive to maintain, only marginally fit for purpose’, Please?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.