14 March 2024

Refurbishment of Brighton Dome’s Corn Exchange used 16,000 Welsh slates.

The first phase in the regeneration of one of the UK’s leading cultural venues has drawn to a close, with just a little help from Welsh Slate.

Some 16,000 of Welsh Slate’s 500mm x 300mm Penrhyn Heather Blue slates, weighing 55 tonnes, have been used to refurbish the roof of the Grade 1 Listed Corn Exchange, part of the historic Brighton Dome complex.

Adjoining the famous Royal Pavilion, the Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre have been refurbished by award-winning architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios) for a 21st Century audience. The Welsh slates were also used on the roof of the Grade II listed 29 New Road which houses a new welcome area and ticket office.

The Welsh slates were installed over 10 months by a team of up to 10 operatives from Kingsley Roofing on a hipped pitch of 25° on the Corn Exchange roof and on pitches of 54° and 28.5° on the mansard roof of 29 New Road. In addition to these two buildings, the circa £38 million, six-year project also refurbished the Studio Theatre and the Church Street entrance to the Corn Exchange.

The new slates were specified on a like-for-like basis by FCBStudios, who have used them before on conservation projects including Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, to replace the originals which had been on the roof for 100 years.

FCBStudios architect Josh Hobson said: “Welsh slate was chosen for its quality and durability, replacing the existing roof like-for-like, using traditional construction methods. Where possible, across the project, we have specified locally-sourced materials to reduce the project’s environmental impact.”

The 980m2 roof build-up comprised a new warm build-up over timber sarking over the existing timber roof structure. The Welsh slates were each fixed with two copper nails, complemented with lead roll ridges and hips, and utilising marine-grade stainless steel vents at low and high level.

Kingsley Roofing estimator John Berry said: “Whilst the works were carried out, internal sensors and alarms were put in place to monitor the whole roof structure to check for structural movement.

“Whilst the roof was of a fairly standard design, its length meant logistical challenges moving heavy slates long distances, and long rafter lengths caused challenges with fitting the lead ridge and hips at high level. But the Welsh slate, being a premium product, performed extremely well and this is reflected in the quality of the roof finish.”

He added: “We were very proud to work on such a prestigious project on an important city landmark and also of our workforce and management team who executed the contract with diligence and professionalism.”

The complex project makes major technical and operational improvements to the venues. It unites, restores and upgrades four existing buildings, while a new link building captures a former courtyard space, providing a foyer and public and support facilities.

Essential conservation work to the listed buildings has peeled back the layers to restore hidden spaces and reveal them to the public. The brand-new foyer, top-lit bar and gallery space, and a restaurant that opens out onto New Road improve the visitor experience, and new toilets and circulation provide better facilities and accessibility for visitors, performers and artists.

Brighton Dome’s remodelled buildings will give it much-needed flexibility in terms of layout, seating, infrastructure and accessibility, allowing a wider range of artists and performers to come to Brighton. A new creative space - named Anita's Room, after Dame Anita Roddick - is also available for artists and community groups to use for workshops, meetings and rehearsals.

Brighton Dome’s Concert Hall and Corn Exchange were the first Regency buildings in Brighton, heralding a new era for the town. From riding stables for a Prince, to a place of protest for suffragettes, to a temporary hospital in World War I, to the stage that launched ABBA to global fame, Brighton Dome has had many lives. It is now the south coast’s leading multi-arts venue.

The Corn Exchange was pioneering architecture from the outset. A column-free timber structure, it measures 54m x 18m x 10m and can accommodate 505 seated and 1,291 standing, including performers and staff. It is still believed to be the widest single-span timber framed building in the country.

Working with theatre experts and skilled craftspeople, the ceilings were removed to reveal the original timber roof structure, and the original character of the building restored. Windows have been opened up, and their original decorative timber linings revealed and restored using specialist craft skills and workmanship, conserving the character of the remarkable 1806 interior. Where necessary, the timber linings to the walls and dormer roof arches have been repaired, using a total of 6,500m of sustainable European oak cladding.

New interventions include sub-floor storage, suspended rigging, a north-end balcony which conceals a 232-seat retractable bleacher seating unit, and a ventilation system using heat-exchange technology that optimises the re-use of energy within the venue.

Plans for the ambitious project started in 2012 and the theatres went dark in 2016. The refurbishment is the first phase of a regeneration project by Brighton & Hove City Council, in partnership with Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival and Brighton & Hove Museums, to cement the Royal Pavilion Estate as a landmark UK destination for heritage and the arts.

The project has been realised with support from Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside trusts and foundations and many individual donors.

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