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30 years of Birmingham rep: Staging the grand design; Sixties architect of Birmingham Rep Graham Winteringham tells Terry Grimley he still feels a great affinity with the building.

Architects may come and architects may go, as Paul Simon once sang, but Graham Winteringham has never really left the Birmingham Rep.

A Birmingham resident since the late 1940s, he lives just a few miles away from the building he designed in the late 1960s and has hardly missed a show on its enormous stage over the last three decades.

Now coming up to his 79th birthday he is still in rude heath. He ran the London marathon 11 years ago and only last week he and his wife walked 30 miles in two days along the Pilgrim's Way - in his case an architectural pilgrimage which ended at the west door of Canterbury Cathedral.

'You do have an affinity to buildings you have designed,' he says. 'You see what happens to them over the years.

'In my later years in practice I did quite a lot of conservation work at places like Baddesley Clinton and Charlecote. There, of course, you are being very disciplined in going back to the intentions of the original architect or master builder, but when you designed a building in the 20th century you knew perfectly well that it would be changed.'

As we talked over cups of coffee in the Rep's foyer yesterday morning Winteringham declared himself 'pretty happy' with the way the Rep has survived its first three decades. He likes the now white foyer space more than when it was first changed in the 1980s, when some false columns, since removed, were introduced.

I tell him that my wife has never forgiven the Rep for covering up his original brick floor.

'The original concept was to extend the outside pavement into the theatre,' he recalls. 'It was not unlike the paving we now have outside in Centenary Square. But there were some people who were asked why we couldn't have traditional theatre carpeting. I told them we couldn't afford it for one thing.'

He gives the same reason for the exposed brick in his earlier city centre theatre, the Crescent, which opened in the mid-1960s and was sadly demolished a few years ago. Perhaps they couldn't afford the plaster, but the warm exposed brick was very much a part of the modern architectural aesthetic of the time, as was the use of materials at the Rep.

Looking at the Rep today (and for most of us it perhaps takes a small effort to really look at buildings we have become used to taking for granted), it seems a remarkable essay in the textural potential of concrete.

'It was very much the concrete era, but I did want it to be as light as possible,' Winteringham says. 'We were lucky with structural engineers - we had Arups, who did the Sydney Opera House. Two of their guys worked in my office for six months. We were very pleased with the way the inverted arcade of the facade worked.'

Although he was a partner in the firm of ST Walker & Partners, the Rep was set up as a project under his own name, in partnership with the city architect: 'I think they wanted someone to blame if things went wrong,' he suggests.

Fortunately things didn't go particularly wrong, although the scheme had a difficult gestation period.

Just when it was ready to roll in the late 1960s the Wilson government introduced a ban on capital projects, and by the time it was lifted building regulations had changed.

Few now remember that the original landscaping proposals included a lake in front of the theatre (the lighting was designed to be reflected in the water) or that the back of the theatre was meant to look out on an extension of the civic centre with high rise office blocks lining Cambridge Street.

'The original brief was pretty startling -1,000 seats in one rake. The design of theatres in those days was very much argued about - should it be a proscenium stage, a thrust stage, or in the round? It went on and on. This is why Denys Lasdun, when he came to design the National Theatre, designed three different auditoriums, rather than try to do all three in one.

'We eventually came down in size from 1,000 because we realised it was getting too huge a space. But the idea of a single rake did appeal to me - it smacked of the Greek arena.'

Now given an imposing setting by Centenary Square, the Rep seems simultaneously of its time and yet hardly at all dated in the negative sense. It is certainly one of the very best designs to remain in the city from that most almost universally deplored of decades, the 1960s.

What other contributions to the cityscape do we owe to Graham Winteringham?

'We did quite a few schools, including Hodge Hill School, and some churches, including Garretts Green Church. We also did quite a lot of housing for the city, but no high-rise! I've often been prodded and accused of designing high-rise housing, but I always say, as it happens, I didn't do any!'

overlewith complicated results.

Winteri. the original that building disapdisappointed very outside .t o I'm pety hapy with whats hapened to the e buiding i didnt liem it when it was /. e Pilgrim's way abs glorius wanted to end up at canterbury Cath: PW tgake syou more or less up to the West front.

we did 30-odd miles in a couplemof days.

some of rem,arks we hn theatre first opeend.

concept was to extend .

we had


Architect Graham Winteringham, now 79, hardly misses a show at Birmingham Rep The Birmingham Repertory Theatre pictured in 1971
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 17, 2001
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