Foster Wilson Size have undertaken a major re-development of the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. Re-imagining what a dedicated children’s theatre could and should be, the extensive transformation of the venue aims to improve the quality and functionality of the existing space, providing a vibrant hub for the local community and beyond.
Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
Central to the design approach was the aspiration to create a more welcoming and stimulating destination. The main building has been opened and extended, a glazed entrance transforms visibility from the street and welcomes visitors into a central spine corridor, leading into a new box office and shop on one side and a large and airy café on the other. By placing all public areas at the front of the site, they can operate independently when the main building is closed, generating further revenue for the theatre.
Working in collaboration with stage designer Laura McEwan, Foster Wilson Size revitalised the space with exciting and fresh interiors. A new purpose-built creative Clore Learning Studio sits behind the main foyer providing interactive, sensory activities for use by children with sensory or special educational needs.
A new 100-seat Adventure Theatre, which is the first purpose-built UK theatre for under 6s, is located in a new building to the rear and is reconfigurable to suit the needs of both incoming productions and Polka’s own early years productions.
The Nest; a new dedicated rehearsal and development studio, equipped with storage and catering facilities, is located directly above the Adventure Theatre.
The outdoor area incorporates a sensory garden led by award-winning gardener Patrick Collins, as well as a play area, including a purpose-built treehouse climbing frame created by play specialists The Space to Play. Distinctive external fretwork is made of perforated aluminium screen and depicts a jungle scene while providing solar shading to the south and east facing windows.
Polka’s Young Voices Panel (8–13 year olds who advise the theatre on all operational plans) were strong advocates for ensuring the building’s green credentials and consequently, at the heart of the redevelopment is a focus on minimising environmental impact. Improvements include a Building Management System that not only controls temperature and CO2 levels but contributes to Covid safety by improving air flow, as well as the addition of PV panels on the roof, improved thermal efficiency, and LED lights throughout.