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English National Ballet

The Light Fantastic

When the English National Ballet relocated from its previous home in Kensington to London City Island, within the developing docklands area of East London, a few tutus were certainly ruffled. Not all members of the company were keen on the move. But the quality of the new building designed by Glenn Howells Architects has proved a successful and stylish new home for ENB.

Seeing Architecture was delighted to be offered a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the building last weekend.

Externally, the clean lines of the concrete and translucent glass building form the focus of London City Island, a new development area of 1,700 homes by EcoWorld and Ballymore.

The public foyer is welcoming and generous. A striking steel stair encourages circulation upwards, as its entire five floors are seen from ground level. The new building provides numerous rehearsal spaces. It is thrilling to be within these spaces, imagining the dances at the barres, the giant mirrors reflected the diffused light from outside.

The translucent cladding alternates with elements of clear glass that give glimpses into these rehearsal spaces, along with internal openings. "The translucent white cladding is a particular design feature, contrasting with the colourful surrounding buildings and allowing passers-by to catch glimpses of the professional dancers as they rehearse," said Glenn Howells Architects.

For me, the most impressive space is the performance hall. This black box can be set up to rehearse any show for venues such as west-end theatres or even the Royal Albert Hall. It is complete with fly tower and lighting rigs. I loved seeing and understanding the magic of preparing a show.

We were also shown the costume workshop, a real Aladdin's cave of fabrics, accessories and dyes.

The designers and the client are to be congratulated. In 2021, the building beat out all competitors to be named RIBA London Building of the Year.

April 11, 2022
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