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By Neomie Tavernier & Lisa Deane 



Stephen Brathwaite – General Manager, Frank Collymore Hall / Lighting Specialist / Professional Vocalist and Violinist 

Nicholas Brancker – Producer and Performance Artist 

Tony Gibbs – Structural Engineer  

Erskine Rose - BIA 

Located on the campus of the Central Bank of Barbados in Church Village, Bridgetown, the Frank Collymore Hall was opened at the same time as the bank on September 18th, 1986. Named for the famed Barbadian teacher, poet, actor and editor, Sir Frank Collymore, it is known as, “Barbados’ Premier Performance Centre” says Stephen Brathwaite, General Manager of the facility.  Every central bank throughout the region has a hall attached to it, and it was always part of the design plans to include this building. The structure is notably understated in the shadow of the bank, however, the completeness of the vision for the Central Bank campus would not be the same without it. The bank has always supported the visual, performance and literary arts; according to Brathwaite, its first governor, Sir Courtney Blackman, was “adamant that to be a good citizen, the bank should have spaces that were accessible to the public, and that our performing artists should have a world-class space available to them.” Brathwaite continued that there are four spaces within the campus that were designed for the public: the Inner Courtyard, Grande Salle, Church Village Greens, and the hall itself. Barbados is notably the only island where the Hall was expressly intended first as a public space for the people and second, as a space the bank would also use.  


What makes a world-class performance space? Whether or not you agree that the Frank Collymore Hall is a “perfect performance space”, it is a widely expressed sentiment that there is something magical about it and that Barbados has no comparable performance space. Mr. Brathwaite ranks it as one of the top two performance theatres in the region.  


Every public space and building begins with the desire and vision of a client which is then fulfilled through the professional expertise of the design and construction team. When the entire team is involved and has good collaborations throughout the process, great things can be achieved; a project that is fit for purpose can come together like a symphony that is pleasing to the ear.  The design team for the hall consisted of Mervyn A. Awon - Architect; Consulting Engineers Partnership (CEP) - Structural Engineers; ADeB Consultants Ltd. - Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Engineers; Colin S. Cooper and Associates - Quantity Surveyors; Richard Lees - Decking Consultant; Leslie Kubic - Space Frame Consultant; Michael Holden - Acoustical Consultant; Structural Systems Ltd. - Steel Fabricators; Higgs and Hill - General Contractor; along with the project management team and others.   


The Frank Collymore Hall was originally designed by its team to be a concert hall. Structural Engineer, Tony Gibbs, notes that “it was meant to be very good for chamber music and speaking, not for big orchestras.” Mr. Gibbs recalls that he had discussions with Mervyn Awon about the potential design for two weeks prior to either of them drawing a line.  In his opinion, these types of open discussions and sharing between industry professionals such as architects, engineers, and planners, devise the best outcomes in projects.  As architects and engineers, we seek out the most suitable systems to achieve our designs which may also require specialist consultations. At its core, the Frank Collymore Hall needed to address the acoustic requirements of a performance space and the structure needed to respond to certain constraints.  The professional team was thus specially selected to provide a suitable response to these requirements. 


The Hall is a simple and perfect square with 33 metre clear spans, reinforced concrete block walls with a glassfibre reinforced concrete cladding on the exterior, and a CUBIC space frame roofing system covered with “holorib” concrete slabs on metal decking.  With the addition of the interior acoustical outfitting, this is a space designed to be a blank canvas for performance.  It is important to know as architects and designers how much and how little design is required to make a space function. Architect Erskine Rose who has affiliations in the performance arts space, says “the architecture compliments it by being absent. Additionally, there is a lot that can be done in the external terrace area which is a great space.”   


Frank Collymore Hall, possibly unknown to most, is a one-of-a-kind building for Barbados.  It is the only building on the island that has ever used the CUBIC space frame system. Through the ingenuity of the structural engineers and others, this system, which is suitable for large open spans facilitating the movement of people and services and the hanging of heavy equipment as required for performance venues, was able to be fabricated locally through the importation of special equipment. The beautiful result of these efforts to meet the vision of Sir Courtney Blackman while controlling the budget for the project is a very acoustically friendly space that requires no amplification for speaking or singing audibility.  The size and shape of the theatre, originally designed for some 500 seats, allows visual connectivity to the stage from all angles and there really are no bad seats. 


Today, over 35 years after its dedication, the hall has notably evolved from a concert hall to a stage hosting many genres of performing arts in its lifetime. To facilitate the requirements of such a wide range of artistic expression, including the use of instruments which the hall was not originally designed to accommodate, dance and more, there has been the addition of new technology, seating upgrades, stage curtains and wings, as well as the separation of the audio and lighting booths. While Mr. Brathwaite noted that it was not the easiest feat, the management team has been able to achieve a system that works and ensures that as with all great performance theatres, no one sees what happens behind the proverbial curtain or in this case, on the catwalks; the magic is maintained for the audience.   


There really are no perfect spaces, but perfection is not required for a space to be successful. Our pride and desire to make space work is as much a part of the collaboration as that which makes architecture inspire feelings of joy within us. As a producer and artist who has performed many times at the Frank Collymore Hall, Nicholas Brancker believes that the hall is a good performance space.  The stage allows a lot of flexibility for set configuration because of its size, and the closeness that the performers have to the audience is greater than typical configurations at other venues. The size of the hall itself facilitates interaction with the entire audience from the very first row to the last. While Brancker acknowledges the constraints within the hall because it was purpose-built for specific types of instruments and having a larger amount of performers makes it more difficult to manage sound, he doesn’t “see that as a negative because it causes you to create/organize your performance in a different way: it challenges a performer to think about the space and construct your performance to suite.” Brancker also spoke to the ability of the space to influence the way in which he as a performer presented himself when playing there, and one may find that as someone attending a show at the Frank Collymore Hall this also to be true.  


There is a quality of space which was expected from the hall’s conceptualization to the finished building, which includes the standard of maintenance by which it exists and operates today.  As a multi-purpose space for the people, designed by professionals and maintained by specialists within the performing arts industry, the hall is lauded by all as a very special venue which is most valuable to Barbados and its continued cultural development. 

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