A surprise second act in London’s ancient theater district

On the grounds of Shakespeare’s first theater in Shoreditch, a new multi-use development takes center stage

In London’s Shoreditch neighborhood, along a patch of land called Curtain Close, modern theater was born. Beginning in the late 1500s, London’s Curtain Theatre—a rectangular, timbered performance space with gravel courtyards and an underground tunnel—premiered some of the English language’s greatest theatrical works. Shakespeare’s Henry V first came to life here, as did the eternal words of Romeo and Juliet. And today the site that was once a center of Elizabethan culture is in the process of a dramatic rebirth. 

That rich cultural history had been lost until 2012, when a team of archeologists excavating a site on the borders of London’s Shoreditch neighborhood stumbled upon the ruins of the Curtain Theatre buried beneath the soil. Today, the preserved remains of the Curtain Theatre are part of a museum and tourist attraction at the Stage, a Shoreditch destination that spans more than an acre of public space, honoring the past while looking toward the future.

The mixed-use development will include office space, retail, apartments, and gathering spaces. At the heart of the new site is the Hewett, as well as its neighboring tower, the Bard. The Hewett is a gleaming eight-story building offering over 77,000 square feet of WeWork flexible office space. The space enjoys natural light and is elevated by a sweeping terrace and a bounty of contemporary, custom artwork. The Bard, which opens in June 2022, is a 12-story building, with the first six floors offering over 72,000 square feet of WeWork space. The two buildings make up the Stage.

Staging a dramatic entrance

Just as the players at the Curtain knew how to captivate their audience from the moment they stepped onstage, the designers of the Hewett understood that a building’s story must begin with a dramatic debut. The Hewett’s ground floor is a shared lobby space that is equal parts striking and restrained: The heated concrete floor is polished to the extent that the intricate neon sunburst pattern adorning the entry desk is reflected like rays over the ocean. 

“The space has a lot of gray elements, so the graphics team wanted to add an element of warmth. The sunburst does that,” says Amaya Rutherford, a senior interior designer at WeWork, who spearheaded the project.

WeWork The Hewett in London. Photographs by WeWork.

Dove-toned paneling lines the walls, which is fashioned from reclaimed Canadian barn timber. It offers a layer of warmth and neutrality that balances the stark palette of the concrete floors and bright neon sun of the entry desk. Onto this blank canvas, a custom geometric mural painted in striking black and white soars three meters high behind the entry desk.

“The overall concept was to create an elevated space, and the juxtaposition is quite nice,” Rutherford says.

Materials that speak to history

But while the Hewett is undoubtedly modern, the fabrics that fill it link it to the past.

In addition to once serving as the heart of the English-language theater world, Shoreditch was also a safe haven for London’s Protestants. In 1685, King Louis XIV banished the sect from France, and the vast majority of Protestants who fled to England gathered in the London neighborhood and found a living by working in the haberdashery trade.

This heritage is recalled in the rich shades of tartan, browns, and blues that make up the Hewett’s upholstery and textiles. “In this project we embraced a selection of different fabrics, and the lovely tones helped us tell the story of this area,” Rutherford says.

The offices get light from all sides. It’s bright even on the rainiest days.

Amaya Rutherford, senior interior designer at WeWork

Additionally, centuries-old wooden beams, doors, and window frames salvaged from the 2012 excavation were incorporated directly into the building’s design. “Ninety percent of the main floor was fashioned from the joinery that we saved. It’s an achievement and we feel proud of it,” Rutherford says.

A view from on high

As is standard at all WeWork locations, floors contain a selection of coworking spaces, multi-suites, and single-member floors, and the boardroom offers an optional connection to an event space so it can be closed off or expanded as needed. On every floor, an abundance of natural light paired with high ceilings keeps things bright.

“The building is narrow, so the offices get light from all sides,” Rutherford says. “It’s bright even on the rainiest days.”

There are surprises at every turn—a statement conference table fashioned from red Spanish marble, a lounge, a community bar, and a wellness studio equipped with showers—but the Hewett’s centerpiece can be found on its seventh floor: a sweeping, sky-high terrace that faces west, where trees and planters offer a connection to the natural world. Here, visitors can take in skyline views of London during the day. 

And at dusk, the scene offers drama fit for a building whose foundation lies in theatrical legacy: remarkable sunsets that arrive, like a curtain falling on a scene, to end the day with a flourish.  

Debra Kamin is a writer in California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, and more.

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