Sparkenhoe Theatre

Highfields in Leicester is both deprived and diverse. At Sparkenhoe Primary School, forty different languages are spoken.

Sparkenhoe Theatre, formed by adding a trapezium shaped theatre box to a derelict tee-shaped prefab, creates a flexible, light-filled, multifunctional set of spaces for the school and its wider community.

The project embodies sustainable practice. As well as being highly insulated and using green construction materials, the retention of the original building fabric represents an intelligent re-use of embodied energy and a clever use of a tight budget. The project has turned the site from an unloved and unusable eyesore to a vibrant centre of community life.

2004 RIBA Award for Architecture

2004 Cabinet Office Exemplar Project

 Exterior view approach to Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

The building re-purposes a redundant dole office, which our client was determined to demolish until we pointed out the viability of its renovation and re-use. The existing pre-fab was stripped back, retaining its foundations, concrete frame and external blockwork walls. It was then re-roofed with profiled aluminium and overclad with vertical timber battens over foil-faced insulation. The new glass foyer walls were fixed directly into existing concrete frames. 

Two simple moves transformed the relationship between the building and its site.  The foyer’s full-height glazing opens up a corner of building, establishing sight lines between the building’s interior and the neighbourhood. We also created a new public space in front of the building by repositioning the existing railings back from the pavement line site boundary, forming a playable breathing space and a place for public performance.

Sparkenhoe Theatre is the kind of facility every primary school in the country should have. It’s cheap, playful and good-looking. It is a simple building, made of robust materials, with a welcoming presence which announces itself open to everyone.

Exterior view from side showing church and Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects
 Signage above the entrance at Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash SAkula Architects

Simple sky signage is stamped out from aluminium sheet.

Roofing battens as cladding on exterior of Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

Vertically laid standard roofing battens backed by silver untearable foil reclads the original blockwork walls. Roof and theatre box are clad in standard mill-finished aluminium profiled sheeting.

Interior colourful theatre seating for Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

The theatre has a sprung timber floor and 180 retractable seats. It is well insulated against sound. 

Colourful interior corridor at Ash Sakula Architects Sparkenhoe Theatre

The original precast concrete structural frames of the building are evident in the corridor, enlivened with gel-coloured standard lighting. Storage cupboards are shallow for ease of use, and plentiful.

Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos

Client: Leicester City Council

Area: 454m2

Refurbishment: 258m2

New build: 196m2

Cost: £0.66m

Completion: 2004

Concept model for Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

The model shows the original tee-shaped prefab with added auditorium box

Site as existing prior to conversion to Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

The derelict prefab prior to conversion.

Cladding screens roof battens Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

Changing room windows are screened by vertical battens, in the manner of traditional middle-eastern mashrabiya screens.

Plan drawings of Sparkenhoe Theatre by Ash Sakula Architects

Floor plan

Foyer entrance with specially commissioned artwork announcing Welcome in forty languages.

Section through auditorium box