State-of-the-art performance facilities in a sensitive setting

1532 Performing Arts Centre

Location Bristol
Client Bristol Grammar School

A brief history

The 1532 Performing Arts Centre provides state-of-the-art facilities for music, dance and drama for Bristol Grammar School and Bristol as a whole. The name 1532 reflects the School's history, being the year that the School received its royal charter.

Our vision

The development presented an opportunity to enhance the character and appearance of the conservation areas through the addition of a high quality new building which provides substantial public benefits. Through careful massing, detailed design and materials, we wanted to develop a scheme for the new building that would preserve the setting of the curtilage listed buildings on the site, and to safeguard the character and appearance of the three directly affected Conservation Areas.

Design delivery

Using our experience of developing similar auditoria space, AWW developed a design solution that not only provides the amenities and environments that the students require but also fits comfortably into the existing sensitive context. The MacKinnon Theatre is a versatile auditorium with retractable seating for between 245 to 320 audience members. A dance studio, drama studio and recital hall are also available to hire by the public.


The frontage is characterised by a ‘green edge’ containing an embankment backed by mature trees and hedge planting. This green edge was retained by setting back the development.

Challenges overcome

The outline and detailed design stages were critical to the success of the planning process. The scheme needed to strike an appropriate balance between the setting of the heritage assets and the existing vegetation while achieving a bold architectural statement. Careful design has delivered a bold, modern building which sits comfortably within this sensitive site.

Adding value

As well as hosting productions and performances by Bristol Grammar School students, 1532 offers a high quality programme featuring professional local and touring companies and encompassing a wide variety of genres. Audience feedback includes comments such as ‘An impressively designed new venue, with a comfortable flexible auditorium and very welcoming FOH facilities’.

Flexible theatre space

The theatre enables different seating configurations, a dance studio, live music venue and a variety of music and band rooms.

Dance studio

Studio spaces are available to the wider community, including schools and local arts groups as well as visiting national companies outside school hours.

“You have made such creative use of space, creating a building that captures the heart as it inspires the imagination. Our new PAC is a landmark in the life of BGS and I suspect will become an icon of creativity in the arts in Bristol.”

R I MacKinnon, Headmaster at Bristol Grammar School

Modern approach

Located at the junction of four Conservation Areas, the main entrance to the 1532 Performing Arts Centre develops a sensitive continuation of the historic façade with a modern approach that introduces intrigue and dynamism to reflect its creative usage.

Glittering box

Projecting into the heart of the central school square, the glorious brass-clad dance studio challenges all students to engage with the performance centre and to explore their creative sides.

“This is a building that captures the heart as it inspires the imagination.”

R I MacKinnon, Headmaster at Bristol Grammar School