Initial ideas for developing the building were not polished, there were no clear plans for what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. In 2006 we established the idea of applying the process we use to develop theatre, ‘Scratch’, to an architectural design and building process. We took ideas from local people, artists and professionals and in direct collaboration with the architects we tested them through low-cost investment. We call this concept and process ‘Playgrounding’.

By seeing our entire building as a playground for performance it allowed us to think creatively about how artists and audiences use space in an iterative yet ambitious way. The time and resources spent on practical research and development strengthened our ideas and had the effect of reducing construction costs – the initial master-plan for Battersea’s old Town Hall was around £18m – through Battersea Arts Centre's Playground Projects this has reduced to around £13m.

Playgrounding Case Studies SLIDER



The first and most ambitious playground project was The Masque of the Red Death in collaboration with Punchdrunk. It enabled Battersea Arts Centre to reconsider its relationship with the Town Hall and view the entire footprint of its one-acre site as valid creative space.

Following its success, and thanks to a pledge of three years support from Bloomberg, we initially planned to stage three large-scale co-productions a year that would each mark significant stages in the building’s architectural development. However, as the work with Haworth Tompkins developed, we realised that this was a highly ambitious aim which we simply could not achieve.

Playgrounding developed into a constant, on-going approach to the building reflected in every area of our programme, not just in major building wide productions. During the Playgrounding process the building has remained open, as it will through the full realisation of the masterplan. We believe that Playgrounding is a more responsible approach to capital projects in an economically unstable cultural environment as it pairs ambition with available resources through a flexible approach.

Octagonal Hall 3

Steve Tompkins

Steve Tompkins is the Director of Haworth Tompkins Architects.

David Jubb

David Jubb is Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre.


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In 2011, a call went out for 6 artists to design and create a room which would house their performance in the second One on One festival in 2011. The only two criteria were that they had to act as a working bedroom that could be comfortably stayed in after the performance and they had to be themed on an existing story.

The chosen designs went on to provide Battersea Arts Centre with the legacy of permanent residency spaces, allowing future artists to live and work in the building without limits, providing complete creative freedom without impinging on the public opening times. Having a community of different artists in residency generates dialogue and cross-pollination of ideas.

This idea of Battersea Arts Centre providing a ‘Home’ for artists has gone on to become a crucial aspect of the final masterplan, and is being developed further.


Bedroom Images


One on One

One-on-one Festival was a season of work put on by Battersea Arts Centre that takes place between one artist and one audience member at a time. Building on the enormous success of the first One on One Festival in 2010, a second festival was staged the following year bringing together seminal works from around the world with new commissions from leading artists in the field.

Kirsty Harris

Kirsty Harris is a designer and artist who made one of the bedrooms commissioned in the One-on-One festival.

Rio Occupation: A Cultural Invasion! 

Part of the official London 2012 Festival (Cultural Olympiad), the Rio Occupation was a project conceived by the Secretaria de Estado de Cultura do Rio de Janeiro, directed by Gringo Cardia and Christiane Jatahy and produced by People’s Palace Projects in association with Battersea Arts Centre.


Rio 1 Draft


In 2012 the Playgrounding project was extended to a second phase in connection with The Rio Occupation, an exchange of 30 Brazilian artists who came to London for 30 days as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival. Throughout the 30 days of the Occupation, the artists hosted a panorama of Rio’s contemporary creative scene in some of London’s most prominent and revered arts venues, including The Roundhouse, Southbank Centre, Somerset House, Victoria and Albert Museum and Barbican.

We used this opportunity to create a home for the visiting artists, extending the exiting residential facilities by developing a series of pop-up bedrooms across all major performance spaces. This series of pop-up bedrooms can now be used for a range of residencies and allows us to use the building flexibly.

“Having the Rio Occupation artists living all together in a creative space was a completely central element of the project. It enabled them to get to know each other on a much deeper level and create far more tangible relationships... They broke down barriers with all Battersea Arts Centre’s staff – we all felt like we were part of the same team.”
Liz Morton, Battersea Arts Centre Producer for the Rio Occupation


Monique Duchen

Monique Duchen is an artist who has been working on projects at Battersea Arts Centre for over 8 years. 

Engagement with young families forms an important part of our long-term relationship with our local community. I'm delighted The Bees Knees has become a permanent fixture in our building, giving children, parents and artists the space to play and create together for many years to come.'

Sarah Golding,
Associate Artistic Director
Project leader of The Bees Knees

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In 2010, we created a scratch of a children’s play space, The Bees Knees, transforming what was previously Studio 1, one of three black box spaces, into an English garden, complete with decking, picnic tables, a community notice board, toys, a slide and a gentle slope for toddlers to climb and roll down. It is a room designed for families with young children where they can interact in a safe, accessible and stimulating environment. It was immediately popular and received constantly high visitor numbers.

This early scratch enabled Battersea Arts Centre to offer a new strand of engaging work aimed at toddlers aged 0-5 years to help develop their learning, creativity and social skills, as well as supporting parents in bonding with their child and in meeting other members of the community.

Following the sustained success of The Bees Knees, the project was incorporated into the masterplan and developed further with lessons learnt from the first phase, and more funding invested to make it more permanent. It now plays a key role in the creative programme as a space to develop and present family work.


Bees Knees Images

‘Bees Knees is a great space to come visit. My son is autistic and has a tendency to run off – so the fact that it's enclosed makes it less stressful for me – at the same time the slide and 'hill' provides a great opportunity for him to get some good exercise, which is not something you can say about many cafes! It's also a place where he gets a chance to interact with other children which is invaluable. Just wanted to let you know that your project makes a difference to our week’

Gitte Hart, Wandsworth resident


Welcome Area Images


Bac Heritage Fest Spaces   James Allan 32


In 2012, we ran a playground project which extend the café into foyer. We aimed to develop a feeling of community and inclusion as soon as you walk in the door; a place to eat, meet and share with each other. This built on the ‘Home’ principal embodied by the bedrooms project and extended it to everyone who comes through the doors. The Welcome Area playground project allowed us to discover and start to overcome the challenges presented by a building designed for a purely formal civic function and to help maximise the area as a potential revenue generator.

In the foyer we introduced seating, wifi, mirrors, lighting, internal doors and heaters. For the marble staircase, a seating installation was commissioned with rung makers Nicholas Hartwright which created a continuous flow of carpet, linking a series of benches. This softened the imposing, municipal first impression of the foyer with a welcoming, warm seating area. In the café we created a raised platform to make the space more dynamic, and reconfigured the space utilising recycled and reused elements of design such as a reclaimed floor from The Almeidia Theatre.

Overall these measures made the area a more hospitable, less imposing, dynamic space with the flexibility to facilitate different roles for the daytime and evening. It then led to a further development of the Bar and Café area as part of the masterplan which has been completed in Spring 2013.

Key Learning

The Welcome Area Playground Project was managed and delivered in house by a Battersea Arts Centre team. Managing lighter construction phases in-house with theatre artists and the production team can be a lot more cost effective than handing everything over to a contractor – the in-house team take more ownership of the project and a theatre production team understands the value of every penny and critical factor of opening the show on time.

Jude Kelly

Jude Kelly was the first Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre (1980 - 1985). She is currently Artistic Director of Southbank Centre.


Council Chamber Images


Emma Rice

Emma Rice is the Joint-Artistic Director of the internationally renowned Cornish theatre makers Kneehigh.

Independents Invention Week Sharing   Jan 2011 040


The Council Chamber has always been one of Battersea Arts Centre’s main performance spaces. Until February 2011 it was a black box space, with a permanent seating rake.

In March 2011 Kneehigh returned to Battersea Arts Centre with their award winning show The Red Shoes which had originally been staged in the Council Chamber. We used that opportunity to return the space to its original form, the idea being that artists should be able to use and respond to it, almost casting it as a character in their productions. The black paint was stripped; the permanent rake was taken out and replaced with a flexible system which could be used throughout the building.

The result for The Red Shoes was a completely new and flexible approach to staging. It also allowed for the space to be used for commercial purposes and now the Council Chamber is regularly hired for functions and events.

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One of Kneehigh’s best loved and award winning shows, The Red Shoes is a passionate, funny, bloody and surreal re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy-tale about a girl possessed by a pair of red shoes who can’t stop dancing. In trademark Kneehigh style, the production fused dance, live music, striking visuals and compelling story telling to bring the tale to life.

'This is intensely charismatic theatre about what it is to be alive'
Elisabeth Mahoney, The Guardian

Full review available here


Grand Hall Images


Don John

Drawing on the influences of disco and punk with a hint of Mozart, Don John was the amoral yet compelling story of the man who slept with over 2,000 women. First performed at the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in December ’08, Don John was directed and adapted by Emma Rice - most recently Brief Encounter (West End), A Matter of Life and Death (RNT) - and designed by Vicki Mortimer - The Waves (RNT and UK Tour), Attempts on her Life (RNT).


The Grand Hall Playgrounding project came from a desire to test its potential as a theatre and maximise the income from the Grand Hall commercial outlets hires. 

In spring 2009 we used the opportunity presented by Kneehigh and Royal Shakespeare Company's co-production of Don John to test the space as a temporary large scale theatre for a five week run. This provided a legacy of greater access to the space and better technical facilities. Playgrounding enabled the Grand Hall to become a flexible space that increases Battersea Arts Centre’s artistic and income earning potential.

“The staging is magnificent… the finest Kneehigh production I have seen”

Financial Times *****


Lower Hall Images


“Due to the high number of commercial enquires Battersea Arts Centre was receiving, it became clear that there was a real demand for a space that local residents and organisations could use as a regular class venue.”

Freddie Huntington, Events Manager

Lower Hall


The Lower Hall was originally created for community uses and served this purpose both as a Town Hall and as an Arts Centre. In 2012 a series of Playgrounding works were undertaken and as a result the Lower Hall has become a versatile, flexible and vibrant space suitable for our current regular hires, and fulfilling the requirements that our new clients were asking for, such as an easier to use sound system, dance mirrors and better storage facilities. The Lower Hall now provides an essential and affordable service to the local community and also helps improve Battersea Arts Centre’s awareness and relationships with its neighbours.

This work was an early scratch of this side of the building to improve the space in advance of the major works in 2014/15. Further improvements to the lobby areas, toilets and accompanying offices have been written into the masterplan to enable the space to reach its full potential.