The atmosphere of the Music Hall behind dilapidated houses is seductive and unforgettable. You pass through a rambling pattern of interconnected (domestic scale) rooms, before you discover the Hall. This is how you found Wilton’s when it was first built and remains so today. Wilton’s atmosphere is precious and this could easily have been lost but the interventions have been designed in a manner that does not compromise the building’s existing character.
The building project was not an academic restoration in a conventional manner, but restoration driven by aesthetics: preserving the building’s character and the items revealed during the building work. The architects followed a principle of ‘doing only what is essential’ and ‘an enormous amount of care and ingenuity went into apparently doing nothing’. This of course is an understatement. The Hall has been invisibly strengthened, sound-proofed, heated and ventilated. Everything possible was preserved: from disused roofs, Georgian brickwork, fragments of plaster, ceramic electrical fittings, to an abandoned birds nest.
These exposed layers of history gave areas of the building an archaeological character and there was great skill deployed in the way the building has been reconfigured and upgraded without a loss of patina and atmosphere. While this is a conservation project, as the story unfolded it emerged that the surfaces bore traces of previous occupation and abandonment. These found qualities of the building have been carefully preserved, creating a visual narrative more subtle and engaging than in a straightforward restoration. Leaving aside the historical importance of the building as the last surviving Music Hall in London, this is pure theatre and an experience to really savour.
It took nine years to raise funds and to complete the project. Wilton’s remained open to the public throughout the duration of the building work. Frances Mayhew (Wilton’s Director), the Design Consultants, and William Fuller and William Anelay (the builders) clearly had a sympatico working relationship and have preserved the unique atmosphere and character of Wilton’s in a masterly manner.
Text from RIBA