Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Date Complete 1994
Location UK Scotland
Client Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Architect Law and Dunbar-Nasmith Partnership

Project Summary

Previously known as the Empire Palace, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre is one of the world’s leading auditoria for opera, ballet and other types of musical event. Seating 1,915 people, it is the largest performance area in Scotland, second only in the UK to the Royal Opera House in London.
Primarily used for opera and ballet, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre also hosts a wide variety of plays and musical events and is a principal venue for the Edinburgh fringe festival.
During this project, the Grade B listed auditorium was restored, with many of its neo-classical and art-nouveau characteristics being preserved. In addition, the stage area, orchestra pit and back stage facilities were expanded and a new glass-fronted structure was added to the theatre’s main entrance and new flytower.

Services Provided

Sandy Brown was appointed to provide full acoustic design advice for the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, including the renovation of the auditorium and the construction of the glass-fronted entrance.

Special Acoustic Features

The original Empire Theatre had many technical deficiencies, including inadequate orchestra pit, insufficient lighting positions, no lighting or sound control rooms, poor ventilation, awkward audience access to the second circle, and problems with noise ingress and egress. It also had a raked stage making it unsuitable for ballet.

The auditorium was remembered for its good acoustic quality, which was supported by our acoustic measurements, which indicated a reverberation time suitable for a range of performance types, and with a bass rise giving a warm acoustic.

All new finishes were assessed to ensure that they were no more absorbent than those they were replacing.

Because of the listed interior, major changes to the auditorium shape or appearance were not feasible, however a small increase in volume was effected by openings in the ceiling and by the new orchestra pit.

The new orchestra pit has elevators to facilitate various pit arrangements:

  • No pit
  • Small pit (10-50 players)
  • Standard pit (60-84 players)
  • Super pit (up to 112 players)

The stalls were re-raked to provide optimum sightlines to a new flat stage.

The auditorium sound insulation was improved by upgrading the roof structure, bricking up windows into the auditorium (but retaining “false” backlit windows), and by forming sound lobbies to auditorium entrances. The new ancillary areas and new glazed foyer also provide a buffer to enhance the auditorium sound insulation.

A new flytower of dense double skin blockwork was constructed and the stage can extend as wide as 37 metres.

Seals were added to the massive steel safety curtain to provide a degree of acoustic separation between the stage and auditorium, allowing the spaces to be used independently while the stage is being set.

The building services meet the design aim of NR 20, with supply air being delivered to the auditorium via drum-jet diffusers on the side walls and linear diffusers under balcony soffits, and extract being taken via the large ceiling dome.