The combination of the following three situations stimulated a renewed approach to the building. This new approach became a catalyst though which we realised the building was one of our most valuable assets. 

Initial Ideas SLIDER



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In 2005, Battersea Arts Centre Producer Laura McDermott invited Punchdrunk to create a miniature piece of theatre for a tiny attic space for OctoberFest. The result was a one-on-one performance based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper. Proving hugely popular, they returned with The Quest of a Wave for the BURST Festival in May 2006.

This sparked a series of conversations between David Jubb (Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre) and Felix Barrett (Artistic Director of Punchdrunk) about a possible co-production, with the idea of creating a building-wide performance environment.


David Jubb

David Jubb is the Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre. Here he remembers the early one-on-one pieces Punchdrunk brought to Battersea Arts Centre.




After David Jubb presented the idea of a building wide production with Punchdrunk to the board, Nick Starr, who at that time was Chair of the Battersea Arts Centre Board, introduced the team to Steve Tompkins of Haworth Tompkins, with whom he had worked on several projects including the National Theatre Studio. It quickly became clear that there were parallel tracks between Haworth Tompkins’ architectural process, Battersea Arts Centre’s Scratch process and the timing and scope of the Punchdrunk project. This was the beginning of an improvisational and collaborative approach to a building project, with artists at the heart.

Jubb recalls a meeting held in the courtyard of Battersea Arts Centre in the summer of 2006, not long after their initial introduction. He described to Tompkins the idea of a show living inside an arts center and a capital project that ‘invests in the discoveries’ of the show. At one point he realised he was making it sound more developed as an idea, and more certain, than it actually was. He stopped to confess that he was actually making this up as he went along and Tompkins responded ‘ah, a man after my own heart.’ Jubb felt collaboration was possible with someone if they were prepared to admit they did not know how or where it might end – a collaboration that involved risk.

“He was someone I didn't have to pretend with; it’s a ridiculously rare thing for brilliant people like Steve to show vulnerability, to show that they’re out on a limb, that they’re sometimes not sure what the next move is."

David Jubb on his first impressions of  Steve Tompkins

Steve Tompkins

Steve Tompkins is a Director of Haworth Tompkins Architects who has been the key collaborative partner involved from the very beginning of the project.

Nick Starr

Nick Starr is the Executive Director of the National Theatre, and was Chair of Battersea Arts Centre's Board between 2000 and 2009. 


Wandsworth 2


On January 10 2007, as the Punchdrunk production and the relationship with Haworth Tompkins began to take shape, Battersea Arts Centre was given 3 months’ notice by Wandsworth Council of their plan to cut the organisation’s annual Service Level Agreement (SLA) and charge rent with a combined impact of approximately £375,000 per year.

A public campaign against the plans received national press coverage and led to questions being asked in Parliament at Prime Minister’s Questions. Nick Starr led a series of careful negotiations with the Council and agreed a settlement: the reinstatement of the organisation’s SLA and a 125 year lease on the building with 20 years rent-free. The security of the lease significantly increased Battersea Arts Centre's capacity to fundraise for major redevelopment. It also fundamentally altered the relationship to the building. For the first time since opening in 1974, Battersea Arts Centre had responsibility for its care and control over its future.

Nick Starr

Nick Starr is the Executive Director of the National Theatre, and was Chair of Battersea Arts Centre's Board between 2000 and 2009.

Sir Edward Lister

Sir Edward Lister is the London Mayor's Chief of Staff and Deputy  mayor, Policy and Planning. In 2006 he was the Leader of Wandsworth Borough Council which had jurisdiction over the Old Town Hall Building. 

David Jubb

David Jubb is the Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre.


“I suddenly felt this amazing connection to the building – this extraordinary experience – I felt so part of it. Partly because it didn’t work – partly because you had to help them – you were party to it.’”

David Jubb on his his experiences in Brazil. Click here to read the full story.

Brazil Images


B Razil


In 2007, David Jubb and David Micklem who were Joint Artistic Directors at the time were invited to São Paulo to take part in Proximo Ato. They went to see a show in Teatro Oficina (Theatre Workshop), a space developed in a collaboration between architect Lina Bo Bardi and theatre director Zé Celso. They returned to England talking about ‘the most exciting theatre space in the world’. The experience of Teatro Oficina, which he shared with Steve Tompkins and Felix Barrett (Artistic Director of Punchdrunk) on an early walk round of the building, was about empathy and vulnerability.

He was waiting outside for his ticket when the doors of the theatre burst open and the cast poured out. Forty performers, some as young as twelve, followed by the audience, dressed for battle, brandishing guns and riding canons down the street. A man started shouting at Jubb in Portuguese. Jubb realised he was telling him to hold onto the door, which had flown off its hinges from the impact of the mass exodus.

The experiences they had visiting Oficina to research the ideas behind Playgrounding allowed them to see the results of a comparable process. Tompkins said that due to the visit ‘we have been braver and more experimental in our thinking as a result.


Teatro Oficina


Lina Bo Bardi was also an important inspiration for Steve Tompkins' work. In 2008 the British Council funded a return trip to Sao Paolo for Steve, David Jubb and David Micklem. The story behind Teatro Oficina was unexpected, complex and exciting. As with other spaces that have become known for their particular potency, the story has built up layers of myth which make it complicated to separate the truth from the aura. Bo Bardi arrived at Teatro Oficina to work in an interesting set of circumstances: an established company with a vision for a particular kind of theatre (public, political, actively engaged with its audience), a company of actors inhabiting and creating in a space long before the involvement of an architect, and that space being unexpected: a conversion rather than a purpose built theatre. The story, or myth, of the Oficina company is intimately woven into Brazil’s recent history and the building reflects the talents of its occupants: it is a storyteller.

What emerges from a rough outline of events is a remarkable approach to theatre space, with two defining characteristics. Firstly, all the architects who worked on the space in the period 1967 to 1993 also designed for productions in the space – Flavio Império and Bo Bardi both designed shows before making any major changes to the space and Edson Elito, who worked alongside Bo Bardi, produced films with Ze Celso. With a building project that stretched over a decade, taking place alongside the business of making theatre, one must imagine a highly developed, integrated relationship between Elito, Bo Bardi and Ze Celso and between the demands of architecture and theatre. Plans for the new theatre space indicate the level at which this dialogue was taking place: in one of Bo Bardi’s sketches a raised walkway is indicated, marked with the words ‘Walkway. Not advised by the architect.’ Secondly, the uniquely production-focused approach to the space. It was not a matter of an architect developing a theatre design based on received knowledge of theatre architecture. They had to understand the way theatre was made in that particular space. There is an enormous amount of specificity and belief in the significance of the present in this practice, coupled with a lack of preciousness about the design: respond to present needs, build to allow change later. Celso stated that a design ‘has to follow the expression and the artistic needs of the production forces’.

Teatro Oficina is not without its complications. It is not acoustically sealed, it cannot be successfully darkened during daylight hours, there is no privacy for the cast, a workshop to build the set or separate rehearsal rooms. It can only seat 400 people and the sightlines are technically terrible: anyone climbing to the second level or above has to sit on the edge of their seat and hang over the railings to look at the tops of the actor’s heads. All the main actors have to wear or carry microphones to be heard. In a lecture to the Theatres Trust delivered on return from Brazil, Steve Tompkins described Teatro Oficina: 'It breaks nearly every rule of the theatre design guide and would never survive an Arts Council review... There are no catering facilities, because the public 'foyer' is under the flyover across the road... There is no rehearsal room, no conference suite, no bookshop, no fly tower, none of the things that we have come to regard as pre-requisite when we assemble our design briefs...’

Teatro Oficina poses the question: does any of this matter if it was designed by and for the artists who make work in that space? It generates an electrifying atmosphere, so despite the seeming discomfort the audiences keep coming back. And they stay through six to seven hours of theatre, something a velvet chair and perfect acoustics rarely lures anyone into. Jubb and Tompkins saw the parallels to be drawn between the history of this building and their own process at Battersea Arts Centre. Tompkins felt that the building offered a challenge to the UK architecture industry engaged in building spaces for the performing arts: ‘This will mean a drastic re-appraisal of construction techniques and materials, as well audience expectations of environmental comfort..."