Attacked theatre named world's best wooden building


Paris (AFP)

A French theatre which was attacked by far-right vandals has been named the world's best wooden building, beating an acclaimed Norman Foster cancer care centre to the prize.

The Hardelot Elizabethan Theatre near Boulogne on the English Channel coast had been praised as "a masterpiece... magnetic in the manner of the Bilbao Guggenheim" by the architectural press, with French news weekly L'Obs saying that "if the exterior is astonishing, the interior is an enchantment."

The ground-breaking round auditorium -- which can double as baroque opera house -- pipped Lord Foster's Maggie's cancer care centre in his home city of Manchester and buildings in the US, China and Poland to the World Architecture News award late Wednesday.

Days before its completion, the theatre was sprayed with graffiti in an attack blamed on far-right activists who called it a "carbuncle" and questioned its cost in the run-up to elections in 2016.

Its architect Andrew Todd hit back at the time saying that at 4.3 million euros ($5.2 million) it was a "bargain" and that with its natural ventilation making it "ecologically light years ahead of any similar building" in France, it consumed less energy annually than an average adult.

Former French president Francois Hollande and his culture minister also praised the building and condemned the attack, with Hollande making his first public appearance there with his partner actress, Julie Gayet.

Part of the Entente Cordiale Cultural Centre, the 388-seat theatre was inaugurated ironically on the day of the result of the Brexit referendum in 2016, when British voters turned their back on the EU.

Its English born-architect has since applied for French nationality.

"It is fantastic to have global recognition for a project that experienced such difficulties and found itself in such a delicate geopolitical situation," Paris-based Todd told AFP.

"But it shows that a building that is made in a healthy and sustainable way with natural materials can also really please people. And hopefully that will mean that it will now be well used and cared for."

Todd said major international directors such as Germany's Thomas Ostermeier, Peter Brook and France's Ariane Mnouchkine had hailed the building and wanted to stage work there.

He said he was now landscaping the parkland around the theatre, which sits next to a neo-gothic castle once used as a retreat by English novelist Charles Dickens.