The Roath Lock Studios are a major new TV production location for the BBC, otherwise known as the new home of Dr Who. It comprises a 3.6ha production village situated in Roath Basin, a 20ha area of former industrial land in Cardiff.
The production village consists of eight studio facilities with outdoor filming spaces together with adjacent supporting facilities comprising reception, café, editing suits, AV facilities and over 27,500 sq ft of new office space. The entire front elevation of the office building is visible from across Roath Basin, formed by a 300 m-long coloured render and timber façade.
For this project, FAT developed a façade using motifs which reference the dock warehouses, wave forms and the gothic architecture of Cardiff. The playful façade, seen across the dock from The Bay – Cardiff‘s new town centre – reinforces the civic connection between the city and its waterfront and creates a unique and highly theatrical architectural element and strong silhouette against the skyline. The project started as a joint venture between Igloo, a real-estate fund managed by Aviva Investors, and the Welsh Government. Their plan entailed a mixed-use development that was compromised by the credit crunch. The plan has been partly resurrected by the development of a creative quarter.
From the outside, the 170,00 sq ft studio complex looks like a relatively basic 300m-long shed. But FAT has given what could have been a standard steel box a rather theatrical treatment. Sean Griffiths, director and co-founder of FAT, explains: “TV studios are an introverted kind of building, so the ultra-decoration is a way of mediating or expressing the worlds that are created within it outwards to the city.”
As the buildings will host the filming of Doctor Who and Casualty, elements of the façade suggest both the fantastical worlds of the former – especially the neo-Gothic splendour of the main entrance – and the ‘everyday aesthetic’ of the latter – hence the crosses cut into the timber planks.
The façade for the new BBC drama production facility in Cardiff Bay is frontloaded design at its most extreme: architecture condensed into a single plane. Its a clip-on, 300 metre-long, half-metre thick timber screen with abstract, cut-outs – of rose windows, crosses, gothic patterns – and a GRP centrepiece. Dewdrop ‘drips’ enhance the elevation at eye level. The façade is the only bit of the BBC building, it has actually designed, the rest, including the offices, cafeteria and vast sheds housing studios and sets, was produced by Holder Mathias Architects.
The 300 m-long façade is supported via two galvanized steel frames, the first supporting the substantial main internal skin of the façade while a secondary structure supports the cut-out motifs that create the external face of the structure.
Sean Griffiths calls it a “figural section, a slice, extrusion, fragment or surface for information, offering a rich but non-expressive, deadpan or objective form of communication“. Behind the façade, there’s a strip of standard, cat B office and some great big sheds for studios, where Casualty, Upstairs Downstairs and Doctor Who are filmed. “There’s not a lot to it,“ he says. Griffiths explains that FAT, alongside dRMM and Holder Mathias, was asked to propose ideas. Due to a tight timeframe – it had to be ready within 18 months, when the new series of Casualty began filming – this may partly explain why Holder Mathias were brought in to complete the project. The facility is one of the largest drama production studios in Europe. Furthermore, the funding from the Welsh Government was a deadline-dependent grant, placing even more emphasis on speed of delivery. Holder Mathias did everything from Stage E onwards. “They did the offices, the studio sheds, even the façade. We oversaw the detailing, but they were doing it. And to be fair to them, they did it pretty well,“ says Griffiths.
Some may feel that FAT have been overindulgent with their design. You can not help but stop and look at their lastest creation and feel its boldness staring back at you. On balance it does look a lot better than an uninspiring shed and after all if the world of theatre is being expressed internally why not express this externally aswell.
Architect: FAT and Holder Mathias
Image: Tim Soar