Finally summer has swung round again, bringing with it the promise of sun and a restored urge to venture into the great outdoors. For us lucky west-Londoners, that doesn’t necessarily mean having to pack our bags and get on a plane; a new year means a new series of Shakespeare in the Squares.
We could not be more thrilled to be sponsoring the Shakespeare in the Squares for the second year. For those of you who don’t know, last year this not-for-profit touring theatre company staged Much Ado About Nothing in nine different garden squares around west London – each production tailored to its individual square. This year’s series of Shakespeare in the Squares will introduce a brand new production of Romeo and Juliet. The infamous love story that has been told thousands of times in thousands of different ways – and yet here we’ll see another entirely unique rendition set in 1950s Italy.
Just as this dynamic new interpretation of the play will no doubt draw the crowds in, Domus Nova is excited about the role we get to play. So we’re bringing a fresh take on the Domus Bar to seven of the garden squares.
Drawing upon the close relationships we’ve developed with several of the area’s revered architects, we saw the evolution of the Bar as an exciting opportunity to once again collaborate. We sent the brief to a few, asking those interested to respond with some design ideas for the new Domus Bar. Those who responded gave us a fascinating insight into the basis of their creative ethos and showed us some interesting approaches to the brief. Ultimately this was, in effect, a friendly competition, and one pitch in particular seemed to capture all the aspects serving up both aesthetic and function, and in the process totally twisting our idea of the Bar.
West London-based practise Tigg + Coll presented us with their interpretation of a bar, having explored several different routes that might speak to both the subject matter and the setting of the play, whilst still providing an interactive serving platform and a structure befitting its local setting – the garden square. ‘Capulet’s Orchard’ delivers thoughtful design and clever, solution-based ideas that will help us realise their sketches and renderings practically and efficiently. The pairing of lighter materials with darker ones evokes a masculine / feminine juxtaposition in keeping with the play’s star-crossed lovers; the arches and stairs speak to the architecture of 1950s Italy.
We sat down for a brief conversation with David Tigg and Matthew Mouncey to get their thoughts on their design…
What was your initial reaction to the brief?
Excitement! The brief offered us something fresh and different to our typical line of work that we could really sink our teeth into. The locations of the productions offer us the chance to explore a different side to the areas in which we typically work.
Were you aiming to make any allusions to set design as you developed your concept?
Theatre set design seemed like the logical lens through which to approach the concept for this bar, however, putting an architectural spin on this was very important to us – this couldn’t become something kitsch or cheesy and had to showcase craftsmanship and elegance too. The vernacular forms and motifs of traditional Italian architecture were distilled and simplified and, harnessing elements often explored in theatre, transferred into a pseudo-stage setting. The idea of the traditional 2D theatre backdrop is transformed and distorted to form an interactive object that can be considered in the round; a space-forming device. Imagined as a singular vertical plane that is folded and twisted, the bar creases to form a sculptural stair and expands out to carve into the space it inhabits.
What were the main themes that you have chosen to run with, and how did you decide to express these structurally in your design pitch?
The starting point for the design of the bar takes its cue from one of the most infamous scenes in Shakespeare’s works. Capulet’s Orchard places Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet within one of the most iconic and recognised set formats in cultural history.
The simple setup of the scene allows complex themes of familial conflict, love, lust, and basic human emotion to play out in a way that is instinctively relatable. The metaphor for the social divide between the Montagues and Capulets physically embodied in the placement of Romeo in the orchard grounds below, and Juliet on the balcony above. The Domus bar draws on the distinct juxtaposition of this divide and the ultimately tragic magnetism between the two lovers that breach it.
The materiality of the structure enhances this suggestion of conflict through the juxtaposing use of dark solid timber and a lightweight frame. Where they meet, the stair twists and folds in on itself, hinting at the dynamism of the story.
You have worked on several projects around several of the squares we will be attending. How did the setting of the garden squares influence your design decisions for the bar?
Locating these productions in the garden squares influenced our design in a number of ways. Most importantly is the distinction between architecture – which tends to look towards context for inspiration – and set design – which often creates its own context. The squares offered the unique opportunity to design something that worked with the plants and trees within the square – something very rare in the centre of London - to aid in creating this new context; the Orchard we allude to from the story. There is an ephemeral quality to this: of a temporary structure whose planes interact with, and establish a space that is unique each night, in each square. On a more pragmatic level, the design had to allow for flexibility for configuration in the various squares, whilst drawing on stage sets allows for its simple assembly, disassembly and transportation from location to location.
How do you envision the guests at each event will interact with the bar? How would you LIKE for them to interact with it?
As an element, the bar can be used from both sides, it was always envisioned as something that works in the round and could be approached from any direction. This in part aids with its flexibility from location to location, but also helps draw the audience in. By creating a structure that can be interacted with directly – the stairs can be used for seating, the bar becomes a platform, its materiality invites people to touch – it becomes more than a static object or theatre backdrop and becomes an interactive and dynamic piece of architecture.
For us at Domus Nova, it almost feels as though we’re building our very own Serpentine pavilion! We are thrilled to be working alongside Tigg + Coll and can’t wait to reveal the finished product. No strangers to working in and around these garden squares, Stella Rossa Contractors will be applying their skills in specialised joinery to bring the concept of the bar to fruition. So watch this space as we start preparing for what promises to be another fun-filled season of Shakespeare in the Squares.
Tigg + Coll: tiggcollarchitects.com
Stella Rossa Contractors: stella-rossa.co.uk