Decoding Design

Tiny Traveling Theater delights London's Clerkenwell Design Week

Posting in Architecture

A tiny mobile theater with chimneys made from coal scuttles played host to audiences of up to six during Clerkenwell Design Week in London last week.

With so much buzz surrounding London before the Olympic Games later this summer, there has been a lot of great design happening. Functional, beautiful, funky and fun creations have been popping up all over the city.

One of the funkier designs I've spotted over the last few weeks is Aberrant Architecture's Tiny Traveling Theater. The mobile theater debuted as part of London's Clerkenwell Design Week last week, towed around by a Volkswagen Split Screen Camper Van. Inside, audience members of up to six people were treated to a serious of intimate and at times intense performances, ranging from theater to comedy to music.

The London-based firm drew inspiration for the traveling show from a traveling coal salesman named Thomas Birtton who converted the rooms above his shed in Clerkenwell in 1678 into a venue called the Small Coal Man's Musick Club-- attracting performances from amateurs to Handel.

Back in 2012, The Tiny Traveling Theater drew on contemporary accounts of the original music club to replicate some of the original space. The stage door is opened by a boat handle, and the roof of the theater is a "coal scuttle," paying respect to Britton's profession. Each chimney has a circular skylight opening up the tiny interior to some natural light.

The size of the venue was influenced by small "one-to-one" spaces (like a confessional booth), and audience members must duck to enter before they can sit in extruded seating boxes. In many cases the intimacy of the venue allowed the audience members to participate in the performance.

A protruding sound funnel was installed to give passers-by a glimpse of the action, and folding chairs and tables outside of the theater allow visitors to grab a drink before and after the performance, turning the space into what the designers call "an impromptu bar."

After Clerkenwell, the Tiny Traveling Theater will now embark on a tour of the country, stopping in various towns to share their new mobile design with the rest of the UK.

It's great to see design that has a sense of history (and humor), and what better opportunity to be creative than when the whole world is watching.

Images: Simon Kennedy

Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure