- 12 May 2006
Over the last two or three weeks the atmosphere in the Project Office – our in-house team’s one room base in the old Union Club building on Chapel Lane has changed. Of course, we’ve been overseeing the building of the Courtyard Theatre, the RSC’s temporary home for the project years, for many months now and my colleagues Simon Harper and Flip Tanner have donned their bright yellow jackets, site hats and boots and set off down Waterside to keep a watchful eye over construction work. Nearby though that construction site is – only a couple of minutes’ walk from the existing Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre – we can’t see it from our office. Now, however, our office has become an occasional home to Charlotte Jones the engineer from our consultants Buro Happold who is supervising a series of ground investigations all around the theatres and the Union Club.
The investigations involve boring holes and removing cores (a bit like coring an apple) to see what the make up of the underlying ground is. The team also make bigger, shallower holes called trial pits and our consultant archaeologists have been on site to take a peek down them. Charlotte tells us that nothing very exciting to archaeologists was found but the drillers, whose triangular rigs have made Waterside feel a bit like Texas during the oil boom, discovered that the ground underneath the Union Club was quite different from what they had expected – mainly “made ground”, filled up when the buildings were built and not the original edge of the river flood plain. This has led to a change in the design of the foundations for one of our proposed buildings. In the car park between the Bancroft Gardens and the RST, the investigations found the old canal basin, silted up and then filled in to make an ornamental pond in front of the old Victorian Memorial Theatre where the RST now stands.
We’ve enjoyed the invasion – and turned a blind eye to the occasional trails of muddy footprints leading into our room – because it begins to make our forthcoming project feel real and not just a pile of drawings to scrutinise and comment on. Soon we’ll be retreating to our office again and adopting an altogether lower profile for a time whilst our colleagues get on with that other RSC project – the Complete Works Festival.