Brighton Corn Exchange is a multi-purpose events venue, part of the renowned Brighton Dome which hosts a range of events and performances. A registered charity funded by Brighton City Council, the Dome is a jewel in the crown of Sussex’s arts and culture scene. The site comprises of multiple heritage buildings, including the Grade I listed Corn Exchange, and the Grade II listed studio theatre and entrance. The redevelopment project has completely refurbished the Corn Exchange, creating a flexible, accessible space, fit for modern use but with the character that comes with a 19th century building.

Working with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, we have delivered an eight-year refurbishment project. The works have helped to increase the capacity of the venue and improve the flow of people using the space, while retaining the heritage features of the buildings. Our team provided specialist structural and civil engineering expertise on the project.

Shaping a 200-year-old, modern events venue

Having been built in the early 1800s, the Corn Exchange boasts a rich history. Originally built as stables for the horses of King George IV, the venue has gone on to host a corn market, an ice-rink, and has been used as a hospital during World War I. In the mid-20th Century, a redesign paved the way to creating the theatre that exists today, with the periphery buildings, studio theatre, and the Church Street Foyer being added in the 1930s – creating new spaces interconnected with the earlier building.

To secure the future of this historic venue, extensive redevelopment and strengthening of the structures across all the buildings were required. A key part of the works was the strengthening of, and repairs to, the Corn Exchange’s iconic roof structure to support new theatre installations.

The age and complexity of the structure meant that works on the roof were difficult. To strengthen and preserve the roof, we used our extensive structural experience and the latest digital tools to analyse and mitigate issues with minimal disruption. A point cloud survey – an analysis model which takes a 3D scan of a building across a set of data points – helped to inform the strengthening design. The survey identified areas where the roof had dipped or started to gap, guiding the placement of bolts required to strengthen it. The model allowed our team to be precise with the diagnosis and limit the impact of any repairs on the original design.

The roof features a series of 200-year-old shallow timber arches that required reinforcement to enhance their structural integrity. Our team’s solution was an unobtrusive, steel tie-rod installation, spanning across the space and co-ordinating with the existing materials. The steel tie-rods were only used where necessary, ensuring impact on the existing structure was minimal. This intervention helped strengthen the arches, boosting the roof’s capacity to bear weight while safeguarding its original design.

The refurbishment works also enabled extra seating and storage space to be created, through the installation of a new single-storey basement and balcony. The new spaces increased the capacity of the venue, offering additional space to store equipment, and allowed for the installation of a hidden air-distribution system – all helping to improve operational efficiency.

Increased capacity for additional events

Previously, access for visitors was solely through the Dome’s main entrance, posing challenges such as overcrowding and potential noise disruption affecting performances, both of which restricted when performances could be scheduled. To tackle this, a new gallery space was built between the Corn Exchange and Dome to connect the venues and improve the circulation and flow of people. The Corn Exchange now also features a transformed visitor entrance, new café and bar spaces, and a ticket office. These extra spaces have been designed to increase footfall capacity while making the venue more accessible. The additional capacity has also helped resolve the scheduling issues, enabling shows to take place in the Dome, Corn Exchange, and Studio Theatre simultaneously.

Putting legacy in the limelight

Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange is a key pillar in the arts and culture scene in Brighton and the refurbishment works have created modern facilities while retaining the heritage of the venue. The increased capacity and new additional practice studios provide much needed facilities for local groups, clubs, and schools to use. This ensures that the Corn Exchange will continue to play an important role in nurturing local talent by offering a space where new skills can be developed. The space also helps to create a sense of community and supports local artists, acting as a place for people to hone their skills or simply come together to celebrate their talent and passions.

A refurbished Brighton Corn Exchange will also contribute to the local economy. The upgraded, larger facilities will bring more visitors to the city. The rejuvenated space will also enable the venue to continue to play an integral role in delivering the annual Brighton Festival. The festival provides a platform for new acts and performances, regularly featuring local commissions as well as UK and world premieres.

Through our work, we have helped to secure a prosperous future for the Corn Exchange, enabling the arts and culture scene in Brighton to continue to thrive and welcome future generations for years to come.