I have heard talk of future renovations of the old Empire Theatre, but this is my take on the potential of this World Heritage Site.
The Empire Theatre is one of the architectural gems of Bridgetown, Barbados, as well as a fond memory to many. Trips to this cinema always seemed to have been eventful and whether it was watching a movie or attending a concert, it was always a night to be remembered –– or so I’ve been told.
I have only ever experienced the Empire as a building standing amongst shrubs, inhabited by birds and other creatures. Its architectural beauty is still evident, but the vibrancy it once possessed has now died.
In its current state the Empire has visibly broken windows and a collapsing roof. There doesn’t seem to be much structure inside and that is what inspired my design proposal for a restored Empire.
The Empire Theatre is in close vicinity to schools, restaurants, the Public Library, retail stores, Frank Collymore Hall, the Parliament Buildings and Church Village. In this area, as with the rest of the island, the weather is made up of either rain or harsh sunlight.
In order to bring back energy into the Empire, my idea is to have a multipurpose building that is focused on community interaction and collaboration. The programming would include retail, a gallery space, a café and a green space.
An open concept design would have the exterior walls of the Empire acting as the shell of the building. Within it would lie a courtyard-like interior featuring a very new design. The new design would be made of reclaimed wood and concrete, as well as other recycled materials.
I propose that the retail inside the building be a vintage store, selling books and novel items. The gallery space would feature artwork and installations of the new and old artists of Barbados, giving everyone the opportunity to showcase
A café within the space would give people a reason to stay and enjoy the ambiance of the Empire’s interior, whether it be to reminisce or to experience it for the first time. The café would also provide the young entrepreneurs of Barbados with a place to come, sit and be inspired. The café is meant to be partially serviced by the green space on the second floor where different herbs like mint, cumin, parsley, and so on would be grown for consumption.
This space would be on display to the public, allowing them to interact with it and be inspired to do something similar at their own homes. Shading and greenery would be used to mediate the light entering the building, as well as protect it against harsh weather conditions.
An idea such as this will provide yet another destination for tourists visiting the island. It will show Barbados as forward-thinking and innovative with its rich heritage.
It would also give Barbadians spaces to work, interact and be creative –– a much needed infrastructure in the Barbados of today.
I understand that restorations can be very expensive, and therefore not everyone sees their importance. To answer the question why spend money on restoring an old crumbling building such as this, I will leave you with this quote:
Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings. –– Jane Jacobs
(Zoe Osborne is an interior designer.)