Sydney practice Chrofi is spearheading a grassroots movement to see the heritage-listed Manly Town Hall adapted into a performing arts venue.

World-class architecture practice Chrofi was approached by local resident and renowned glass artist Warren Langley to explore ideas for the adaptive re-use of the Manly Town Hall building in late 2019. The practice’s office overlooks the Town Hall on the opposite side of the street.

“The site is very well serviced by public transport and has convenient parking nearby,” Chrofi architect Joshua Zoeller said. “It is therefore important that when Council vacates this site, the building is re-used for a civic or public function; anything else will be a loss.”

The architects developed a proposal for a performing arts venue using scale comparisons with existing performing arts venues across Sydney and around the world, such as parts of the Sydney Opera House, the Eternity Playhouse, Carriageworks, Belvoir Theatre, the Old Vic in Bristol and St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.

“The building design lends itself to re-interpretation as a facility for performance. Its footprint is large enough to comfortably accommodate a number of facilities and functions,” Zoeller said. These include a 350-seat major theatre, a minor theatre, theatrette or cinema, an intimate music venue, a restaurant, bar and café, and community rooms.

“[The building] naturally accommodates a large, flexible performance space at its core bookended by the two storey front of house foyers and back of house facilities,” Zoeller said. “At the centre of the building is a double height space of no heritage significance and it could be redesigned to facilitate a new use.

“A civic forecourt at the front and a laneway at the rear provide opportunities for the building program to engage with the public domain.”

The group presented the idea to the Northern Beaches Council in August 2020, and in a subsequent council meeting, councillors resolved to begin community consultation on the future use of the Manly Town Hall, which took place in January 2021. A performing arts venue was a popular response from the 272 contributions from the public.

The idea has the backing of members of the local music industry, with Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Australian Chamber Orchestra artistic director Richard Tognetti each penning letters of support, along with the local state MP James Griffin and federal MP Zali Steggall.

It caught broader public attention when deputy mayor Candy Bingham named it as a primary policy platform for her re-election campaign.

If the idea was to be realized, it would be “a game changer for the culture of the arts in the community,” Zoeller said.

“For too long, the Northern Beaches has suffered from a dearth of venues and opportunities for the community to experience the best of music, theatre, dance and cinema,” Richard Tognetti wrote in his letter of support.

“Manly Town Hall could be the jewel in the crown as a cultural gateway for the peninsula with the potential to draw audiences from far and wide.”

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