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Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Refurbishment and extension to a 1976 theatre building and 1876 Bishop's Palace


Since opening in 1976 Eden Court Theatre has played a pivotal role in the cultural life of Inverness and the Highlands and Islands. Designed by architects Law and Dunbar Naismith, Eden Court occupies a site on the north bank of the River Ness to the south of the city centre. The site chosen for the theatre comprised an existing dwelling house and grounds dating from 1876, known as the Bishopʼs Palace, which is located adjacent to the Episcopal Cathedral, both by architect Alexander Ross.

In recent years it became clear that the theatreʼs existing accommodation needed to be refurbished and extended to provide for a broader range of cultural activities and expand its conference facilities.

In 2004 Eden Court appointed a design team to develop proposals for the following: a second theatre, 2 cinemas, 2 studios for dance/drama, new office & dressing room accommodation. The existing accommodation was to be refurbished with essential DDA provision, new café, restaurant, bars, box office and shop, toilets and meeting rooms.


The extension and upgrade of the theatre focused on two key areas, inclusive design and sustainability.

Formerly neither the 1976 building nor Bishopʼs Palace had any provision for the disabled. The works carried out have brought all areas of the buildings up to a standard for DDA compliance.

 Bishops Palace Stair Hall             Sky Lined Forms

The interior of the Bishops Palace (left) and the natural ventilation towers (right). 

The former foyer system, which wrapped around the existing theatre was generously spaced but under utilised, particularly at upper floor levels. The clientʼs desire was that the new public facilities should be arranged to maximise the use of the existing circulation spaces, which were to be designed to be occupied and lively throughout the day. This strategy is also pragmatic in that the provision of new circulation space would have been expensive to build and maintain thereafter.

To achieve this, the floor levels of the extended building have been aligned with existing levels. No passenger lift provision was available in the existing building and a new public stair and lift have been provided which will serve the ground, first and second levels of the existing audi­torium and extension together with the new basement level.

Although this project was not subject to benchmarking against any evaluation system, the design was driven by the Clientʼs strong desire to reduce maintenance requirements and running costs. This led the Design Team to explore the use of a sustainable approach to natural ventilation wherever possible, including the main performance spaces.

The existing Bishopʼs Palace has opening sash and case windows to provide ventilation. Other energy saving measures included refurbishing and draught sealing windows and insulating ceiling levels and the sus­pended ground floor. Acoustic insulation was also added into the depth of upper floors to improve acoustic performance.

In the 1976 theatre building modifications were made to the existing glazed screens to provide additional opening lights at all levels, to en­courage air movement throughout all levels of the foyer system. Lower level screens were replaced with double glazed units. The outer leaf of the fly tower and stair walls were rebuilt due to stability issues, which also allowed for the thermal performance of those walls. The previous inefficient mechanical ventilation system was replaced during the works with a new air handling unit, which includes a new cross flow heat exchanger to reclaim heat from the exhausted air.

In the new extension a natural stack assisted ventilation approach has been adopted where air is brought in at low level and as it is warmed, rises up to be expelled at high level through a series of 6 chimneys.

The chimneys form a major architectural feature of the new building, emerging from the single plane of the roof. These provide outlets for the natural ventilation system being employed within the theatre and cinemas. The cladding of the chimneys has been developed in collaboration with artist Donald Urquhart as an artwork that expresses and reflects the function of the chimneys. These are boldly coloured in an arrangement of vertical stripes of blue, black and polished stainless steel to form an artwork entitled ʻSky Lined Formsʼ. Louvred panels and recesses provide air intakes for the ventila­tion system served by the chimneys to the Theatre and Cinemas.

Solar panels located on the existing fly tower roof provide pre-heated water for the main public toilets on the ground floor, and again this is acknowledged by artistic representation. A sand blasted design has been added to the slate splash backs to the vanity counters depicting sunrays falling on water to alert users.


The natural ventilation arrangement for the new theatre has been computer modelled to assess the efficiency of the system. The results show that the conditions in the building are satisfactory when both the low level intake and the chimneys dampers are open 24 hours. In the theatre model, the conditions are comfortable when only the chimneys are open 24 hours and the low-level intake dampers are open only during occupied hours. Having the chimneys open at night allows a purge of the building and helps to cool the enclosing concrete structural walls down in preparation for the heat loads experienced on the following day.

The theatre and cinemas are provided with a mechanical de-stratification system to enable space heating to operate efficiently and to minimise energy wastage caused by passing warmed air to at­mosphere during the heating season. This draws warm/hot air from high level within each space and supplies it back into each plenum at low level. This is important during unoccupied heat mode for the operation of the heating, which is via heaters under the seats. Also in cold winter periods it will mix some room air with the incoming fresh air to reduce the heating demand.

Anecdotal evidence from Eden Court Theatre suggests that the natural ventilation system works very well, with many positive comments on how fresh the spaces feel- especially at the end of long conference events.  



The Architects recommend that for even a relatively modern building you should have a healthy contingency fund. A few unexpected deficiencies were found in the original construction of the 1976 theatre, including a reduced number of wall ties.

With regards to commissioning natural ventilation systems be prepared for a settling in period as the system will not be right and will need some fine tuning. 

Nightime Bishops Road


Eden Court Theatre

Page\Park Architects

Cundall, Johnston & Partners

Gardiner and Theobald

Robertson Construction Northern Ltd


Resource Efficient Scotland supported the preparation and presentation of this case study for the Retrofit Scotland website.

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