Gulbenkian Centre, University of Hull


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX


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Statutory Address:
University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Kingston upon Hull (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Drama teaching centre incorporating a fully adaptable theatre. 1967-9 by Peter Moro for the University of Hull’s Department of Drama. Michael Heard partner in charge, Clarke Nicholls & Marcel structural engineers, Theatre Projects Limited lighting and sound consultants. Concrete beam construction with red brick panels restricted to the ground and first floors, board marked concrete, copper-clad roof.

Reasons for Designation

The Gulbenkian Centre, University of Hull, 1967-9 by Peter Moro and partner in charge Michael Heard, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural Interest: a distinctive, sculptural form in red brick and concrete designed to fit a restricted site with elongated octagon footprint to enable easier external circulation, echoed in the shape of the second-floor windows, a copper-clad roof with shaped central fly tower to reduce visual bulk when seen from higher adjacent buildings while still proclaiming the special purpose of the building, and dynamic, triangular, corner staircases; * Architect: designed by the renowned theatre architect, Peter Moro, who is associated with a number of highly listed buildings and who was pre-eminent in successfully exploring flexible staging methods for theatre; * Theatre design: the building is of particular interest in Moro’s career as he here expresses the concept of flexible theatre in its purest form as a flexible black box performance space, informing his subsequent work, such as the studio theatre extension to the Theatre Royal, Bristol; * Historic interest: designed as ‘first and foremost a teaching laboratory’, the Gulbenkian Centre was the first building in the country designed primarily to teach students all aspects of technical stage presentation, as well as television and radio acting; * Group value: as a component of the post-war development of the University of Hull campus overseen by Sir Leslie Martin, who recommended Moro to the project committee having worked together on the Royal Festival Hall, and thus sharing an historical relationship with Martin’s listed Middleton Hall and associated chapel and Larkin Building.


The University of Hull Drama Department under Donald Roy admitted its first students in 1963, making it the third drama department in the country after those at Bristol and Manchester. It was, however, the first university in the country to commission a purpose-built drama studio for its students to learn all aspects of technical stage presentation, as well as television and radio acting. Leslie Martin, the university’s consultant architect, was asked to suggest an architect. Peter Moro was appointed by the project committee in November 1963 after visiting his Nottingham Playhouse ahead of its opening in December of that year.

Moro embraced the pioneering concept of flexible theatre fully here being able to count on student labour to move stage blocks and periaktoid towers which could be made into any configuration, while the principal space was entirely spanned by counterweighted flies with a motor hoist that was then the latest technology. This allowed for complete flexibility for the stage and most of the seating (there is a fixed block at one end of the space) but Moro and his partner, the partner in charge, Michael Heard, fixed the lighting grid as this would have been hard to manoeuvre for each new show. A basement was provided to enable entrances or exits via traps. Plans were made available from early stages and there was close consultation with the university staff members of the Drama Department. The result was a drama studio that Moro described as ‘first and foremost a teaching laboratory’.

The structural engineers were Clarke Nicholls & Marcel. The technical lighting and sound consultants were Theatre Projects Limited. The Gulbenkian Foundation gave £50,000 towards the theatre, after which it was subsequently named. The University Grants Committee sponsored the audio-visual equipment. The building began to be used from late 1969, but the official opening was in 1970 with three plays, including J R Planché’s ‘The Vampire’, aiming to reproduce the 1820 programme of Hull’s Theatre Royal.

After Donald Roy retired in 1997 the drama studio was renamed the ‘Donald Roy Theatre’ in recognition of his key role both in establishing the drama department and in the designing of the Gulbenkian Centre.

The smaller television studio has now been converted into the Anthony Mingella Studio for the department’s internal productions. The original building layout remains largely intact, but several rooms have changed use, most notably a second-floor range of rooms containing a production office, seminar room and props store are now a postgrad room and a computer suite. A box office has also been inserted into the original cloakroom area at the rear of the foyer.

Leslie Martin had previously chosen Peter Moro as his associate architect working on the interior of the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London (Grade I), which opened in 1951. Following on from that commission, in 1952 Moro set up Peter Moro & Partners (later Peter Moro Partnership, dissolved in 1984), a practice specialising in theatre design, and to a smaller extent, in public housing and schools. Theatre commissions include designing the pioneering Nottingham Playhouse of 1961-63 (Grade II*), 1964 alterations to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, a major refurbishment and extension of the Theatre Royal, Bristol, (Grade I), including the new studio theatre created with Michael Heard, housing the Bristol Old Vic, completed in 1970-72, the Riverside Theatre, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland of 1975, and the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, of 1982.


Drama teaching centre incorporating a fully adaptable theatre. 1967-9 by Peter Moro for the University of Hull’s Department of Drama. Michael Heard partner in charge, Clarke Nicholls & Marcel structural engineers, Theatre Projects Limited lighting and sound consultants. Concrete beam construction with red brick panels restricted to the ground and first floors, board marked concrete, copper-clad roof.

PLAN: elongated octagon. Centrally placed drama studio with fly tower above forming the highest part of the building with smaller studio theatre (former television studio) to rear. On the ground floor: audience facilities to the front; radio and sound studios along the left-hand (west) side; double-height paint shop along the right-hand (east) side. On the first floor along the sides and front: control rooms for the theatre and studio; academic offices; dressing rooms; green room. On the second floor along the sides and front: wardrobe; rehearsal room; academic offices; post-grad room; computer room.

EXTERIOR: the ground and first floors are of red brick with the full depth of the second floor of board marked concrete. The glazing throughout has brown-anodised metal frames with thin mullions. The stairwells in the four diagonal corners are expressed externally by glazing spanning between handrail height and the ceiling of the first floor, and board marked concrete below. The stairwell return walls have ground-floor doorways in the concrete and are set back beneath the wider diagonals of the second floor. The main entrance in the short, south elevation, is centrally placed in a wide, double-height recess with a flight of five brick steps and a concrete ramp to the left with brown metal handrails. A brown anodised metal frame containing four, glazed doors with a deep lintel naming the Gulbenkian Centre in applied, mixed-case silver letters (replacing the original capital letters) is set in a glazed screen with thin mullions. Flanking the entrance are two narrow, vertical strips of glazing. The concrete second floor has a row of five elongated octagon windows mirroring the footprint of the building. The long, west side elevation has continuous bands of glazing on the ground and first floors alternating with bands of red brick. The second floor has four elongated octagon windows towards the south end. At both ends of the long, east side elevation are similar rows of glazing at ground and first-floor levels with three elongated octagon windows towards the south end of the second floor. The central area of the two lower floors is blind with a double-height window joining the two rows of glazing to the left, and a double-height loading door to the right (with a new shutter door). On the second floor above the central brick area is a wide window lighting the wardrobe room which projects above the roofline with a glazed roof return. The short, north elevation is blind. A green, copper-clad roof with a low pitch rises to merge with the tapering, central fly tower.

INTERIOR: the interior remains largely as built both in layout and appearance with white-painted brick walls and board-marked concrete in corner stairwells. The stairwells and some second-floor rooms, including the large rehearsal room, are lit by circular skylights. The triangular, corner staircases have balustrades of wide, horizontal timber boards with widely-spaced, slender, square metal balusters. Many original solid wood doors with simple black-painted timber architraves remain throughout. The most significant alterations are the fitting of the suite of radio/sound studios with sound-proof doors and secondary glazing.

The central drama studio is an unadorned square space measuring 57ft (17.4m) with no bias or direction to inhibit flexibility. The floor of the acting area is removable in sections so traps can be made almost anywhere reached from a basement. Above the acting area at a height of 40ft (12m) is a grid for a flying and lighting grid. Lighting galleries are arranged round the four walls of the square at a height of 17ft (5m). The double-purchase counterweight fly system is operated from the stage-right gallery. The upstage gallery doubles as a paint bridge that can be mechanically raised and lowered with a paint-frame stretching from stage floor to the gallery meaning that backcloths can be painted in-situ. Raked seating on moveable rostra can be arranged round the acting area in various degrees of encirclement, producing either a transverse stage, a thrust stage or theatre in the round, seating around 200. When not needed, the movable seating and rostrums are stored below a fixed rake of 111 seats which forms an annex to the square theatre space. This fixed rake is designed to be used for proscenium arch performances where almost the entire square theatre area forms the stage, a stage riser is visually created by opening a shallow band pit and a flexibly locatable proscenium arch is formed using the flying grid. The limited front of house facilities, amounting to a narrow, brick-floored foyer and box office, reflects the building’s primary purpose as a teaching facility for drama rather than as an entertainment venue for paying audiences. The studio theatre has been converted from a television studio with the installation of seating rakes on the north and south sides. Two overhead catwalks across the studio have now been removed.


Books and journals
'Hull Drama, University Theatre and Television Studio, Hull, Yorks, Architects: Peter Moro and Partners' in Architectural Review, (February 1970), 102-108
Peter Moro, , 'Gulbenkian Centre, University of Hull' in TABS, , Vol. Vol.25, No.4, (October 1967), 28-33
Frederick Bentham, , 'A Tale of Two Theatres' in TABS, , Vol. Vol.27, No.4, (December 1969), 17-21


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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