Four million bricks – an architectural challenge - Roundhouse - Celebrating 50 Years


1997 – 2006

The challenge presented to the architects tasked with Roundhouse’s renovation was by no means small. The team had to successfully marry the objectives of retaining the existing features of the Grade II* listed building with designing modern state of the art learning facilities and an international arts venue. And all this working to the budget restraints associated with the client being a charity. So how did they manage it?

Study model of the Main Performance Space.

Credit: John McAslan & Partners

In late 1997, John McAslan & Partners was selected from a competitive interview to develop proposals for the building’s regeneration.

McAslan’s scheme aimed to retain the majestic principal Roundhouse space, transforming it into a performance hall accommodating up to 3500 people in a standing configuration or 1300 seated. A new wing containing a studio theatre, hospitality spaces and support facilities was connected to the main performance space by lightweight bridges across a dramatic top lit galleria. The unused basement of the original building was also transformed into the Roundhouse Studios – a series of practice rooms, recording studios and social spaces for young people.

The underlying principle for the building’s repair strategy was to minimise structural interventions and to enhance the building’s historic features. Where essential repairs to the existing fabric were necessary to improve its decaying condition, measures were taken to ensure the building retained its character and industrial qualities:

  • The 4 million bricks making up Roundhouse’s perimeter and internal brickwork walls were repaired, repointed and cleaned.
  • The original Victorian structural work required minimal repairs
  • The overlying timber rafters and boarding in the roof required extensive remedial work

The undercroft level originally housed nothing more than ash pits for the servicing of the railway engines. This level was carefully adapted to create the studio and performance spaces for young people, highly insulated in both acoustic and climatic terms.

Acoustic engineering was key. The Roundhouse is located in a predominantly residential area and in order to be able to host rock concerts as part of the entertainment portfolio, isolating noise of up to 108 db was a major priority. To tackle this. a significant upgrade of the existing building’s roof was undertaken to achieve the necessary structural requirements of what is now a highly technical and adaptable performance space.

In order to minimize interventions into the historic fabric and to optimise usability, a new building was also constructed alongside the original Roundhouse. The new wing was to house the spaces needed to support functions for this contemporary arts and entertainment venue.

This newly completed programme of refurbishment and extension opened in June 2006 to great acclaim, allowing the Roundhouse to quickly re-establish itself as one of the most important and cherished London venues.

“John McAslan has done a wonderful design with great sympathy for the fact that we were working with a famous iron building. It is very beautiful and fit for its new use”.

Sir Torquil Norman

Article Sources:

  • John McAslan and Partners – A Practice History. 1999 Thames & Hudson
  • Civic Trust Awards 2008 Application by John McAslan



By Emily Kerr (Roundhouse Employee and Graphic Designer)