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National Theatre revamp gets the green light from Lambeth

The National Theatre has won approval for major changes to its building despite objections from the original team working with architect Sir Denys Lasdun.

National Theatre revamp gets the green light from Lambeth
The new paint shop will replace the car park ramp next to Upper Ground

The alterations and additions to the National Theatre were unanimously approved by Lambeth Council's planning applications committee on Wednesday evening. Earlier, councillors had received a last-minute objection from the architect's widow who was watching from the public seats.

Lady Lasdun expressed concern about plans for a new entrance and the choice of carpet. During questioning, Steve Tompkins of architects Haworth Tompkins said that there would be an attempt to match the first carpet laid in 1976.

Proposed changes include moving the main entrance, bookshop and stage door, greening the terraces with grass and bushes and opening up the concrete walls with glazing. The most significant changes are moving the service area, now exposed by the riverside walkway, and adding a new paint studio building on the south side.

The committee was addressed by architectural historian William Curtis who had come from France to plead for Lasdun's original designs to be respected as a guideline for any change. At one point he brandished a copy of a 1977 Architectural Review special issue on the new theatre which he had edited.

Calling for Lasdun's provision of a sight line of St Paul's from Theatre Square to be reinstated by moving an additional glass wall, he said: "Imagine we have a church by Hawksmoor and you say we shall push things around a bit at the entrance."

Gordon Forbes from the Lasdun Group, who describe themselves as "architects still around" from Lasdun's office, was "shocked' by the proposed new paint shop. He quoted Sir Denys as saying buildings should be allowed to speak in the way creators intended.

Cllr Brian Palmer expressed "grave misgivings" over Theatre Square's 'zig-zag' paving. But dismissing claims that the proposed extension looked like a Tesco he said that "nothing could be as horrendous" as the approved plan for Doon Street opposite.

Nick Starr, NT executive director, said that the theatre wanted to engage fully with the riverside where twelve million people now pass by every year. When the building opened there was no path to the east.

The committee resolved to grant planning permission following agreement over safeguards on interior flooring and outdoor paving.

Ted Inman, on behalf of the South Bank Employers' Group, spoke in favour of the application. Support also came from Coin Street Community Builders and Waterloo Community Development Group.

Work is expected to start late next year with the extension completed by 2013.

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