Arts centres

BAC grand hall reopens after fire devastation

Battersea Arts Centre today reopens its grand hall following the 2015 fire that all but destroyed it, and also reveals the results of a 12 year development programme for the centre.

The hall will reopen tonight with Missing, the play by the Gecko physical theatre company that was running when the fire broke on in March three years ago. It also marks the start of a five-month Phoenix Season celebrating the centre’s recovery from the disaster and its remodelling, completed by the architects Haworth Tompkins after a 12 year programme at a cost of £13.3m.

Credit Haworth Tompklins. Main image credit Fred Howarth

“The re-opening of the grand hall marks a massive moment for us – it’s the first time the entire building has been fully open for the public to explore for 12 years” said David Jubb, the BAC’s artistic director and CEO. “This follows an iterative project which has renovated and opened up the whole building. When the flames rose above the Grand Hall on Friday 13 March 2015 it looked as if all that progress might be lost, but due to brilliant and brave firefighters – and the incredible generosity of more than 6,000 people and organisations - the building was saved and the Grand Hall is reborn!” 

The building was originally opened in 1893 as Battersea Town Hall. The Haworth Tompkins rebuild has retained the walls that survived the fire and conserved them in their scorched, post-fire state. A new lattice ceiling takes inspiration from the original 19th century design, while new technical infrastructure concealed in the roof allows natural ventilation and greater technical and acoustic possibilities than before.

The grand hall in 1901

The lower hall area has been redesigned into a new co-working space called the Scratch Hub which will provide a home for up to 150 creative and social entrepreneurs, and the Grand Hall Bar features a vibrant back bar installation by artist Jake Tilson, who meticulously recorded the damage in the weeks following the fire.

The building has been transformed into a 21st century cultural and community centre where the traditional demarcations of auditorium, foyer and back of house spaces can be dissolved and reconfigured in multiple combinations.  

Jubb said the intention was also to transform how arts centres engage with people - shifting arts centres from being about the production of art to being centres of art-making-process, with programmes such as The Agency which develops young people’s entrepreneurial skills, and co-working space the Scratch Hub will offer support for people to realise their own projects.

Credit Morley Sternberg


Through Phoenix Season over 2,000 tickets are available for £1, targeted at people with low incomes through BAC’s Local Roots programme with Wandsworth and Lambeth voluntary groups. Battersea Arts Centre is also launching a new Phoenix Award to offer talented artists the opportunity to develop their work and present it to larger audiences in the grand hall.

The rebuild and redevelopment have been made possible by BAC insurers Aviva, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the Greater London Authority and the Wolfson Foundation. There were also 6,000 supporters and donors who came forward after the fire, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Battersea Power Station Foundation and many others. The Phoenix Season has been supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Haworth Tompkins.

“Battersea Arts Centre has not just been restored, it has been revolutionised” said the actor Toby Jones, a patron of the BAC. “The grand hall is now one of the most exciting and flexible venues in London.

“To alchemise beauty from rubble and grace from catastrophe is entirely consistent with the dynamic artistic and political history of this building. Battersea Arts Centre continues to scratch and sniff at what it means to be a popular participatory theatre in the twenty first century. I’m proud to be a small part of it."

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