The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Project: The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The Marlowe Theatre has become a modern architectural landmark since its recent redevelopment. The old 1930s site has been regenerated and a modern and dynamic building erected in its place with funding from Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) as well as private and public fundraising. Bilco UK, maker of quality and durable roof hatches, smoke vents, floor doors and associated safety products has taken a starring role in the redevelopment of the site. 


With a new 1,200 seat, state-of-the-art auditorium, an array of cafés, bars and foyers as well as a piazza specifically for outside performances, the Marlowe Theatre has posed some unique challenges in its construction. The theatre’s design was directed by award winning architect - Keith Williams – who created a brief for a huge acoustic smoke vent within the theatre’s fly tower. Bilco UK duly delivered the custom made 4,000mm x 11,000mm vent, constructed in 6 sections and with 24 covers. Not only was it the largest vent Bilco UK has produced but it is the first 24 cover motorised acoustic vent ever created.

James Fisher, General Manager at Bilco UK, explains: “The Marlowe Theatre project was a challenge but has demonstrated our ability to deliver a product that has met all the expectations of the original design. We are delighted that the biggest ventilator we have made and assembled should take centre stage in this iconic new theatre.”

Bilco UK’s acoustic vents are specifically produced to stop noise intrusion and carry the highest available sound rating on the market. This makes them ideal for indoor venues such as cinemas, concert halls, auditoriums and theatres. Not only do they complement the acoustics of modern indoor venue design, they are also hugely important for fire safety. The vents can be controlled by internal switches and are also automated to help fire fighters to bring a blaze under control quickly by removing smoke, heat and gases from a building when fire breaks out.

James Fisher explains: “The major benefit of this acoustic vent is that it provides natural ventilation throughout the auditorium and stage areas and offers the reassurance of automatic venting should fire ever break out inside the theatre.”

The Bilco UK vent installed in Marlowe Theatre, for example, has a custom-made control panel which opens all 24 covers simultaneously when a signal is received from any of the external controls. In the event of mains power failure the battery back-up will ensure that sufficient power is available to open and close the vents for a minimum period of 24 hours following loss of power. Also, the control system will automatically close the covers in the event of rain or high wind conditions while in natural ventilation mode. Fully-insulated and gasketed for weather-tightness and sound-resistance, the covers open up to 90° to ensure the rapid dispersal of smoke and noxious fumes and to reduce the risk of them being blown back into the building.

Bilco is associated with durability and reliability amongst architects, building engineers, specifiers and the construction trades – offering 25-year warranties on many of their products. Not only are Bilco’s off the shelf products of top quality, they offer a dedicated design service for custom and special project needs. This flexibility and dedication to meeting customer’s requirements has made Bilco an integral part of the dynamic regeneration of Marlowe Theatre.

James Fisher adds: “Our products are driven by customers’ expectations and often their needs are determined by health and safety requirements. We are delighted that we could help with such a great building such as Marlowe Theatre. We are not just about providing top quality products now but also providing products that will be top quality for years to come”