Kensal Rise’s Lexi Cinema has reopened to a design by Rise Design Studio. The much-loved north London community hub and local landmark was in need of a refresh to increase capacity and refine its offering, when the locally based architecture studio led by co-directors Sean Ronnie Hill and Imran Jahn stepped in.
‘We got involved about six years ago, as this is our local cinema,’ Hill explains. ‘We were approached by the Lexi and first they asked if we could help with odd jobs around the cinema. We were initially asked to make a beer garden out of a little car park at the back. We managed to get the local head of planning here and while the beer garden didn’t happen, we decided to start planning a second screen, to expand the existing cinema.’ At the same time, an electrical fire during the pandemic, was ‘a make or break moment’, the team recalls. While luckily nobody was hurt, the building suffered a lot of smoke damage so everything (including technical fabrics, projector, seats etc) had to be replaced.
Viewing this as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, the design team together with Lexi founder Sally Wilton, embarked on a delicate and compact transformation that saw part of the rear car park built and turned into a second screen, while the interiors were tidied, reorganised and given a new lease of life by the creation of bonus areas such as a new bar for guests (which includes an original Tracey Emin artwork). At the same time, several features from the original structure (the Lexi occupies the building of an Edwardian gabled brick theatre) were retained and incorporated into the design.
Each of the venue’s two screens now has its own identity (one is deep blue, and one is lilac), while graphic designer Joan Zalacain worked pro bono on the Lexi’s smart new wayfinding and signage. This, along with architectural gestures such as the consistently dark rubber tiles and pink walls in the corridors and entry hall, brings everything neatly together, visually linking circulation all across the cinema.
Sustainability was also a key part of the brief, as the architects used passive cooling techniques throughout, while incorporating a mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) system and designing the building to be airtightly sealed to minimise heat loss. A planted roof in the new section of the building not only adds greenery to the neighbourhood and the neighbours’ views, but also helps support biodioversity in this very urban part of London.
‘The Lexi Cinema holds a special position in the Kensal Rise community, so we approached the project as an opportunity to contribute to both the built environment and social lifeblood of the area. An exercise in community partnership, The Lexi Hub has been designed to respect its neighbours while providing them with invaluable space to gather, learn, contribute, connect, and relax,’ says Hill. §