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Garsington Opera makes Unusual decision

Ian McMurray 17 June 2011
Garsington Opera makes Unusual decision

Unusual Rigging has completed the project management of a major installation – a temporary 600 seat pavilion housing the month-long run of performances by Garsington Opera.

Garsington Opera instructed architect Robin Snell and, following a competitive tendering process, appointed Unusual Rigging as main contractor to manage this design and build project, including fabrication and construction of the pavilion. At the end of the opera season, the pavilion will be dismantled and loaded by crane onto some 40 trucks to be taken away for storage, ready for return next year.

Lifted above the ground to give an appearance of ‘floating’ over the landscape, Snell’s design takes its cue from a traditional Japanese pavilion in its use of sliding screens, extended platforms, verandas and bridges to link it to the landscape.

“We won the project in October, then had until April to coordinate the design and build and manage the logistics, including all ground preparation works,” said project manager for Unusual Rigging, Mark Priestley. “The pavilion sits on 100 permanent concrete foundation bases, each of which measures up to three square metres and has an adaptor plate to which the steelwork connects, ensuring an accurate and repeatable set-out each year. The pavilion has a modular steel frame and an overall expected fifteen year life span; it will return to the same position each year, enabling the company to make this investment in demountability.”

“Construction of the primary structure and fabric roof took a month, with a further month of electrical, timber and seating fit out,” he continued. “Up to fifteen of our people were on site at any one time, working with a sixty-five ton crane. In addition to the supply of rigging, lighting trusses and chain hoists, which is our regular ‘bread and butter’, we supplied, cut and fitted all the timber – 3km of oak panelling and 13km of balau for the hardwood decking, held together with 70,000 screws.”

“The pavilion was designed in a modular format, so each piece of the jigsaw was designed and built off site, then fitted together at Wormsley. Just like a theatre set, each piece is numbered and mapped, so that when it’s deconstructed it can be easily fitted back together next year. And each one can be removed individually so that other pieces can be fitted in – such as elements of a set, or to create trap doors in the stage. We were careful to leave large areas around and underneath the stage area free of structural supporting steelwork, so that the directors can take out panels as they wish.”

Around 145 tons of steel, supplied by Sheetfabs of Nottingham, make up the pavilion’s frame, with some pieces preclad with timber and palletised. The PVC roof, supplied by Architen Landrell Associates, is actually two skins – a waterproof inner skin, with a PVC mesh 100mm above, so that falling rain drips through silently, rather than hammering the ceiling. “As far as we know,” said Priestley, “this solution is unique to the pavilion, and works really well.” Clear PVC fabric in sail like shapes is used to form the sides of the auditorium.

The auditorium ceiling and walls were specially designed by Sound Space Design, to improve the room acoustic. “In the orchestra pit, we were given designs for acoustic panels, which we fabricated and placed on moveable frames,” went on Priestley. “Even the disabled access lift, which was supplied by Ability Lifting Solutions, is designed to be dismantled for storage in two parts.”

The stage is on an elevated position adjacent to Home Farm, with a cluster of flinted buildings that includes a house, barns, orchard, lawns, stables and estate yards.

“The biggest challenge was the timing of the project,” explained Priestley. “We had a relatively short length of time to organise the suppliers and get materials ready for assembly on site. But with our extensive experience in entertainment venues, and of working to absolute deadlines, we were absolutely sure everything would go to plan.”

“We have worked with Unusual Rigging for many years at Garsington Manor and have established an excellent working relationship with them,” said Angus Boyd-Heron, project manager for Garsington Opera. “We were therefore delighted to be able to continue the partnership by working with Unusual at Wormsley. They have handled the entire project extremely well from start to finish, dealing with the challenges they were faced with and working with all the contractors and suppliers.”

Garsington Opera opened its short summer season with Mozart’s The Magic Flute on 2 June 2011.The highlight of the season will be the British premiere of Vivaldi’s La verità in cimento, while Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia completes the season that runs until 5 July.

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