In 2016, Darlington Civic Theatre closed to mark the start of a £12.3 million renovation project that included a £4.5 million lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The full refurbishment of the Grade II listed Edwardian theatre, now renamed the ‘Darlington Hippodrome’, included the creation of new gallery and exhibition spaces, cafés and bars. It also connected the existing building to a flagship children’s theatre, The Hullabaloo.
Client: Darlington Borough Council Architect: Space Architects Contractor: Willmott Dixon Interpretation Design: Williams Design Associates Branding agency: Given London
The project timeline:
Preliminary strategy submitted July 2017:
Detailed design begins October 2017:
Signage manufacture November 2017:
Signage installation November 2017:
Front of house signage is located so theatregoers can find their seats easily when the building is busy. Backstage, large-scale signage ensures actors and technical staff can move around quickly and with confidence.
What our client said:
“It’s unusual to see this level of interpretation in a project. We aimed to introduce information and stories about the venue that could be discovered and explored by visitors and engage them in the theatre’s history, without affecting the day-to-day running of the building.”
Colin Williams | Williams Design Associates
The redevelopment of the Darlington Hippodrome, a well-known and much-loved theatre, resulted in the emergence of a fully accessible building, with a new internal structure and floor plan. High-level changes to elements like the theatre’s main entrance meant that we needed to develop a front of house wayfinding scheme that would help guests find their way in, find their way around inside – and find their way out again with ease.
Character and elegance at the front of house
We needed to make sure that theatregoers were able to find their seats and feel comfortable exploring the new gallery and exhibition spaces, cafés and bars. Front of house we used pictograms, rather than written signage, to indicate the venue’s specific accessible routes and to give the theatre a warm, inclusive character. The use of pictograms also served to prevent visual overload, and ease the flow of traffic with all key signs positioned to be visible when the theatre is busy. We specified high quality materials appropriate for use in a civic building of this standing. All signage follows DDA guidelines and is designed to withstand wear and tear in areas of high traffic.
Hard-wearing clarity at the back of house
Back of house, the signage and wayfinding needed to be both clear and robust. The venue hosts many different visiting theatre companies throughout the year, and they need to be able to find their way backstage quickly and with confidence. We used robust, lower-cost materials to match the industrial environment backstage. We also selected a flexible system for use on the dressing room doors, so that the names of performers can be changed quickly and easily using printed paper inserts.
Architectural vision and interpretation
Our client was keen that the signage in the building should marry well with Space Architect’s vision and the branding guidelines developed by Given London. We worked closely with Williams Design Associates to ensure that both the wayfinding and interpretation were in keeping with each other and appropriate for the new space.