The Lift New Parliament
Touring structure, 2006–8

A demountable performance and meeting space to provide an initial home for public life in new places.

The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) is a biennial festival of theatre, performance and cultural events that also supports year-round activity in London. The organisation was founded by Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal, with the first festival in 1981 hoping to ‘challenge British theatre and open a window on the world’.

In 2006 we won the open design competition to design the LIFT New Parliament, a performance and meeting space that would be able to tour to where it was needed, funded by the Thames Gateway Development Corporation. 50 years after Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood’s proposals for a ‘Fun Palace’ in Stratford were thwarted, the Lift delivered a modest scaled but similarly ambitious ‘laboratory of fun’ in the same East London neighbourhood.

We led a collaborative design process working with diverse groups in five Olympic boroughs to develop a shared brief for a new type of democratic space. Working with local artists we developed a collective understanding of existing public meeting rooms and explored new possibilities. We captured our brief in a spatial constitution and publicly tested it at 1:1 scale in an all day priorities event at Stratford Circus.

The LIFT takes the archetypal form of a tent as its starting point, creating a flexible membrane structure. The familiar and inherently flexible form allows for additional structures to be introduced within it, making it an evolving and playful space adaptable to the myriad functions that the Lift engenders. A deployable roofscape of inflatable structures tune the acoustics and lighting to create appropriate environments.

The membrane is printed with a quilt pattern, with coloured by a range of users and arranged geometrically to enhance the scale of the structure. The structure uses simple, proven and traditionally collaborative technology for erection, ventilation and cooling.

By day the structure is a meeting place that hosts performances, ceremonies, forums, talks, workshops, virtual conferences, installations and exhibitions. By night, it is a beacon, an after dark installation, transmitting sound and image, radio broadcasts, films and documentation of the day’s activities, communicating messages of its activities through theatre and the web.

International Design competition. First Prize. Built.

London International Festival of Theatre

Touring including:
Festival Square, Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX
Stratford Park, London E15 3JR
Barking Abbey Grounds, Barking IG11 8JA
Shoreditch Park, Hoxton, London N1 5EP

Structural Engineer

Theatre consultant

Unusual Rigging


Tim Mitchell, Morley Von Sternberg

Further Reading

AOC’s mobile performance space, the Lift, goes public
Ellis Woodman review in BD

Beautiful and practical
Rowan Moore of AF competition website