Wac Arts is a creative community hub aiming to unleash the potential of young people through the arts activities including dance, music and theatre. It shares its premises, the grade II listed Old Hampstead Town Hall in Belsize Park, north London, with partners who include the University of the Third Age, Akademi, South Asian Dance and the London Gay Men’s Chorus.
Built in 1878 on a corner plot on Haverstock Hill, The Old Town Hall was hailed as ‘handsome and solid’ (though later, Pevsner called it ‘crushingly mean’: clearly its Italianate baroque qualities did not find favour with that arch-modernist!). Whatever, it has an imposing, institutional feel to it at odds with WAC Arts aspiration to be open and welcoming to its community. Their IOWA masterplan (Inside Out WAC Arts) aims to open up the Old Town Hall to provide better access, more visibility and a wider public welcome. They appointed Ash Sakula for its first phase.
WAC Arts had envisaged a new café as a modern extension to the existing building. We proposed accommodating the café within the existing building, and allowing its activity to tumble out into the public realm with a large new café terrace on the front and side of the building. This, combined with more generous public areas inside the building, and a new front-staged performance and events space, will draw new audiences in and help create a busy, active ambience throughout the day and into the evening.
The new arrangement links the public areas of the building including the café and reception area with the so-called Imperial Stair, a Victorian baroque set piece rising the full height of the building.
Client: Wac Arts
Collaborators: P3r, Civic Engineers, Jane Toplis, Martin O'Rourke, Cragg
Planning submission: August 2019