Roadtripping Around Wales Again… (by Rob Firman, Austin-Smith:Lord)

Roadtripping Around Wales Again... (by Rob Firman, Austin-Smith:Lord)

Austin-Smith:Lord has a long and proud record of designing new buildings for the performing arts. Our portfolio of completed work also includes the conversion of a derelict town hall into an arts centre and now, with the completion of the Gaiety in Ayr, our first full restoration and conservation of a listed theatre building.

Working with listed theatre buildings is not, however, a new experience for us. Since I published ‘The Theatres and Performance Buildings of South Wales’ in 2012 recording the physical and economic condition of the 111 surviving theatre buildings in South Wales, I have been a member of the Theatres Trust’s Welsh Theatres Working Party and unofficial ‘Special Advisor’ to the Trust for Theatre Buildings in Wales.

Each September the Trust publishes its annual Theatre Buildings at Risk Register (TBAR) identifying buildings that seem to be at risk of physical or economic collapse leading to their permanent loss. I assist in the compilation of the Welsh TBAR by passing on my knowledge of the condition of theatres on the last year’s list and identify others that maybe should join the list.

This year, there was one long-standing member of the TBAR list in the north – The Grand Theatre, Llandudno – and a potential new addition – Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech and in September I paid them both a visit in a 500 mile round trip, to inform the TBAR.


The outcome of the trip was that the Grand stayed on TBAR 2016 but Ardudwy didn’t join it. There has been no effort in the last year to further repair to the huge cracks in the Grand’s corner turrets whilst Ardudwy has recently had a significant investment in digital projection equipment and is presenting Hollywood blockbusters to regular full houses. Since my visit it has also been granted listed status and the statutory protection now afforded is seen as reducing the risk of loss now. Continuing presence on the TBAR will hopefully apply sufficient pressure on the Grand’s owner to effect the repairs so obviously needed.

We know the TBAR works – Austin-Smith:Lord is currently working with the owner of the Palace Theatre in Swansea on its restoration and concept designs for its adaptive re-use. He invested significantly in repairs to the building envelope after featuring on the TBAR for the last 5 years and the building, once considered the most endangered Victorian building in Wales, is now considered much less at risk.

Rob Firman, Director at Austin-Smith:Lord