Theatre 'a glimmer of hope'

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 12:00 24/11/2013
Isaac Theatre Royal
Kirk Hargreaves

BIG JOB: Art Restoration expert Luigi Vitulli works inside the dome of the Isaac Theatre Royal.

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By the time the first patrons step inside the Isaac Theatre Royal, a glamorous skin will cover the concrete and steel bones of a daring rebuild.

The sheer amount of steel, concrete and reinforcing in the Isaac Theatre Royal rebuild is overwhelming.

More than 60 reinforced piles run 12m into the ground and steel bracing beams are thicker than the average person is tall.

Project manager and civil engineer Nessa Ryan- Andersen believes it's the most exciting project to be involved with citywide.

There are none more challenging, more intricate, nor more historic.

She specialises in bridges - huge bridges - and even she is impressed by the engineering going into what will be the cornerstone of the future Arts Precinct.

"The steel beams are huge. I don't think I've ever seen anything so big," Ryan- Andersen said.

While most of the theatre could not be saved, the facade, marble staircase, domed ceiling and backstage structure have been rescued.

In between, a giant hole once loomed where the bulk of the theatre was demolished. That hole is now being filled as the theatre itself begins to take shape.

"People say demolition and rebuild are easier than restoration," Ryan-Andersen said. "But not in this case."

Construction and engineering have come a long way since the 1900s and creating an exact replica of the original is a tall order. For one, the building and fire codes have been considerably beefed up.

A restoration effort would require a much lower percentage of today's building code to be met - a nod to the intricacies of modifying an original.

But because the theatre is being rebuilt from the ground up, it must meet 100 per cent of the New Building Code and the fire code, requiring huge smoke extractor fans and layer upon layer of steel and reinforcing.

The challenge - build a replica of the old, but to a much higher standard without compromising its authenticity.

"We've really pushed the envelope on this one," Ryan-Andersen said. "A lot of what we've done has just been to the max."

While the new build will be almost exactly like the old, it will have better acoustics and lines of sight.

The dome ceiling is being restored, but will be further stabilised with carbon fibre, and the street facade is being secured with layers of concrete and ties to secure the bricks.

No effort is being spared to ensure people feel safe inside the theatre.

"It's awesome. It's a glimmer of hope for the city."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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