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Leeds Dance Centre

Part 1 Project 2008
Neil Cooke
Leeds Beckett University, UK
The project brief is for a dance centre and compromises two main elements. A response to the wider urban setting above ground and a subterranean envelope which seeks to offer a constructional language more specific to dance.

It is evident on the lower basement plan how the timber members (shown dotted on plan) serve to offer a more feminine balance to the very masculine brick piers of the railway viaduct and the necessarily substantial underpinning. The circulation core, staff facilities and bar/lounge area all look out over the main hierarchical double height performance space. Moveable bleachers seating is used to cater for a variety of audience/stage configurations which will be well received by the more contemporary dance companies whom sometimes have innovative stage/audience relationships.

The section aims to describe how the constructional detailing of the dance venue could add delight to the overall experience of the space. The twin column arrangement, taking point loads from each pier of the railway viaduct, lean back from each another as a dancing couple might hold one another in a routine. The columns modelled with human tapering profiles, descending to touch the ground in an altogether more light manner than might have occurred had an underpinning relied on the line of the splayed brick piers been extrapolated down through the venue.

The sectional perspective drawing attempts to illustrate the two key design ideas promoting dance in the building. Firstly the twin column arrangement at set intervals has been layered in a montage with ghosts dancing to show how the columns pick up the gentle arc of the railway line which they support and appear to glide through the venue. Secondly, the long timber slat configuration, which creates a void between itself and the main structural envelope for services, exemplifies the use of chronophotography as a method of describing a fluid motion; such as dance.

Neil Cooke

In the last projects of the Third year, the student synthesises, in the design of a building in an urban context, the knowledge and skills gained during the Course.
An outline brief for a Dance Centre was provided for the students. Four sites were suggested as being (hypothetically) suitable.
The briefs were developed through guided tours to the Contact Theatre, Manchester (where students learnt about the requirements for bungee dancing, aerial dancing and dancing for the disabled); the Northern Ballet theatre; and the Yorkshire School of Contemporary Dance.
Neil chose a site on Wharf Street, Leeds. As part of the site analysis, he looked at the wider area and became interested in the divisive effect of the railway viaduct and the fact that a culverted beck ran close to the site. He developed an obsession with underground Leeds; secret Leeds; spaces which are known to exist but are sealed off and no longer used.
He suggested that the area could be unified by an underground Dance Centre underneath and on both sides of the viaduct.
His project is notable for its independence; the thoroughness with which the decision to underpin the railway viaduct has been pursued; his determination to establish an architectural language reflective of both the site and the brief; and its lively approach,(delighting in metaphor, simile and analogy) which is equally apparent in the drawings and models which communicate it.
There are paired,"dancing" columns; the establishment of rhythm (a beat or time-signature which organises the planning); a ceiling like a chronophotographic record of the oscillating flight of a see-saw through the space. (The derivation of the ceiling's design from the work of Etienne-Jules Marey is referred to in the chronophotograph of the performer being observed by the Dance-Theatre audience.) There are attempts to allocate a gender to the piers and columns of the viaduct (male) and the ceiling (female). There are references to the site's historic past as a timber-yard.
Neil's submission provides only an edited version of the holistic coverage (including studies relating to environmental physics, structures, construction and landscaping etc.) which he undertook, and only partial evidence of his industry, energy, commitment and breadth of exploration.


Mr Gary Hornsby
Mr Steven Morant
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