Quarterhouse by Alison Brooks Architects

London firm Alison Brooks Architects have completed Quarterhouse, an art and business centre in the seaside town of Folkestone, England.


The project is part of the once popular seaside town's attempt to revitalise its fortunes through arts-led projects.


The fluted mesh cladding is inspired by scallop shells.


The following information is from the architects:


In December 2005 Alison Brooks Architects won the two stage national competition for the design of the Folkestone Arts and Business Centre (‘Quarterhouse’). The 1550sm building is a key element of the arts-led regeneration of Folkestone spearheaded by client The Creative Foundation, a charitable trust.


The Quarterhouse includes a 220 seat, 500 standing multi-purpose auditorium for music, dance, theatre, film performances and conferences; ground floor foyer and exhibition space; first floor café/bar and a top floor business enterprise centre. The design was developed through 2006, started on site in early summer 2007 and is being completed in February 2009. Funding for the project has come from a £3.5M grant from Kent County Council with a further £500,000 from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).


Design Concept Statement

The Quarterhouse was conceived as both a ‘beacon’ announcing a new cultural hub for Folkestone, and as a modest ‘bookend’ building completing the curved east facade of late Georgian buildings that form Tontine Street. The building’s most prominent feature, the fluted mesh cladding illuminated from behind at night, took its inspiration from both the maritime iconography of Folkestone – scallop shell window pediments and seaside town paraphernalia - as well as the fragile and translucent texture of the scallop shells that arrive in Folkestone’s harbour every day.


The cladding was developed to protect the building; provide an illusion of curvature on its flat facades through modulated flute spacing; a reference to stage curtains, and to provide a constantly changing perception of texture and pattern depending on the time of day and quality of light. All of these characteristics are intended to express the animation and movement of the creative life within the building.


Fundamental to the design of the Quarterhouse is the idea that the building will form a home for Folkestone’s performing arts, a haven for start-up creative businesses and a social hub for the wider public. The building’s name is intended to reinforce this idea - literally the Creative Quarter’s house.


From competition stage ABA has described the building as Folkestone’s Living Room: an informal place for relaxing, for meeting friends, sharing ideas. The street level ‘shopfront’ and huge glazed façade of the first floor café are key to this concept– a window to the city that communicates inclusivity to the whole of Folkestone.



At the turn of the last century Folkestone was a fashionable holiday destination, but more recently a combination of ferry port closure, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link bypassing the town and the rise in demand for foreign holidays has caused a gradual deterioration of the town.  To counteract this, The Creative Foundation was established in 2002 by Chairman Roger de Haan to save Folkestone’s architectural heritage and inject a new lease of life into Folkestone’s old town. The Creative Foundation now own 60 individual buildings in central Folkestone, many of which have been refurbished and leased to creative individuals and who have been attracted to the emerging arts quarter.



The Creative Foundation’s original competition brief is almost entirely represented in the final building. It called for:

  • A 250 seat, 500 standing multi-purpose auditorium for music, dance, theatre and conferences. (The number of seats was reduced to approximately 220 seats during the design period due to space constraints)
  • A large bar ‘capable of serving capacity audiences swiftly’. There are now 3 bars within the building.
  • Bistro/cafe for 40 covers and commercial kitchen
  • Large foyer/ reception area
  • A business support centre that would ‘offer practical administrative support to the network of creative industry start-ups in the area’. It was intended to include meeting rooms, IT and reprographics suite and a library. This aspect of the brief changed slightly during design development with the building now containing a top floor business enterprise centre- 13 small offices of approximately 15sqm each, a shared reception, meeting room, tea kitchen and toilets.

Planning Constraints

Quarterhouse is located in Folkestone Leas and Bayle Conservation area, on a site previously occupied by a builder’s yard. Whilst the builder’s yard was of some minor historic interest mainly due to its signage, the existing building was not listed and English Heritage agreed that the benefits gained from a new public building outweighed those from retaining it. Quarterhouse also forms the first constructed part of a masterplan of the Folkestone harbour area produced by architects Foster and Partners. In the masterplan the performing arts centre is identified as a marker building which would form one end of a new link between the town centre and Tontine Street.


The building was awarded planning permission in a unanimous vote at the Shepway District Council Committee hearing in August 2007 contrary to the advice of the planning department which recommended approval only on condition of the removal of the exterior mesh cladding. Committee members described the exterior cladding, an array of curved expanded metal mesh panels forming back-lit vertical flutes, as an ‘imaginative and innovative solution integral to the building, its role as a theatre and as a beacon for the regeneration of Folkestone.’


Methods of Construction & Finishes
To provide the optimum acoustic conditions for amplified sound inside the auditorium and isolate the auditorium from the third floor offices and neighbouring buildings the Quarterhouse is based on the principle of creating two concrete boxes; an inner and outer box structurally and acoustically isolated. The inner in-situ concrete box prevents amplified sound escaping from the auditorium and restrains the tensioned wire grid; while the outer concrete block box prevents exterior noise from entering the performance space. Piled foundations support a concrete ground floor slab; structural walls are either insitu concrete or blockwork. Concrete planks are used for upper floors. Steel beams and columns enable the large areas of glazing and cantilever on the east (Tontine Street) side of the building. Interior finishes in public areas include gold Formica, mild steel sheet; polished concrete and fumed oak; Barrisol ceiling and mirrors; the auditorium flooring is fumed oak; mild steel balcony balustrades; retractable seating and gold curtains.



Architect - Alison Brooks Architects Ltd.: Alison Brooks; Dominic McKenzie (Project Architect) ; Sophie Bates; Wanja Wechselberger; Marian Beschoner; Michael Woodford; Hikaru Nissanke; James Taylor
Structural Engineer- Akera Engineers
Theatre Consultant- Charcoalblue
M&E Consultant- Atelier Ten
Acoustic Consultant- Sandy Brown Associates
Quantity Surveyor- GPM partnership
Lighting Consultant- Harry S Lloyd Associates
Main Contractor D.J. Ellis Construction Ltd.


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