A new vision for the old Empire

I have heard talk of future renovations of the old Empire Theatre, but this is my take on the potential of this World Heritage Site.

The Empire Theatre is one of the architectural gems of Bridgetown, Barbados, as well as a fond memory to many. Trips to this cinema always seemed to have been eventful and whether it was watching a movie or attending a concert, it was always a night to be remembered –– or so I’ve been told.

The Empire Theatre

I have only ever experienced the Empire as a building standing amongst shrubs, inhabited by birds and other creatures. Its architectural beauty is still evident, but the vibrancy it once possessed has now died.

In its current state the Empire has visibly broken windows and a collapsing roof. There doesn’t seem to be much structure inside and that is what inspired my design proposal for a restored Empire.

The Empire Theatre is in close vicinity to schools, restaurants, the Public Library, retail stores, Frank Collymore Hall, the Parliament Buildings and Church Village.  In this area, as with the rest of the island, the weather is made up of either rain or harsh sunlight.

In order to bring back energy into the Empire, my idea is to have a multipurpose building that is focused on community interaction and collaboration. The programming would include retail, a gallery space, a café and a green space.

An open concept design would have the exterior walls of the Empire acting as the shell of the building. Within it would lie a courtyard-like interior featuring a very new design.  The new design would be made of reclaimed wood and concrete, as well as other recycled materials.

A new/renovated design concept for the Empire Theatre.
An open design concept for a renovated Empire Theatre.

I propose that the retail inside the building be a vintage store, selling books and novel items. The gallery space would feature artwork and installations of the new and old artists of Barbados, giving everyone the opportunity to showcase
their work.

A café within the space would give people a reason to stay and enjoy the ambiance of the Empire’s interior, whether it be to reminisce or to experience it for the first time.  The café would also provide the young entrepreneurs of Barbados with a place to come, sit and be inspired. The café is meant to be partially serviced by the green space on the second floor where different herbs like mint, cumin, parsley, and so on would be grown for consumption.

This space would be on display to the public, allowing them to interact with it and be inspired to do something similar at their own homes. Shading and greenery would be used to mediate the light entering the building, as well as protect it against harsh weather conditions.

An idea such as this will provide yet another destination for tourists visiting the island.  It will show Barbados as forward-thinking and innovative with its rich heritage.

It would also give Barbadians spaces to work, interact and be creative –– a much needed infrastructure in the Barbados of today.

I understand that restorations can be very expensive, and therefore not everyone sees their importance. To answer the question why spend money on restoring an old crumbling building such as this, I will leave you with this quote:

Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings. –– Jane Jacobs

(Zoe Osborne is an interior designer.)

Source: (Zoe Osborne

11 Responses to A new vision for the old Empire

  1. Ryvan Bigman
    Ryvan Bigman May 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    When I was a youngster I was in there whenever a hot flix came out. Surprise to see that building still standing.

    • Harry Turnover May 20, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Remembered those days too,with big hard back men climbing over each others heads just to get in,and the time I passed out in the foyer after viewing the birth of a child and seeing about 4 other guys scattered out on the ground on awakening.

  2. Ricardo Sharon
    Ricardo Sharon May 20, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Ten years later Chaka

  3. Winston Edghill May 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Zoe – Congrats! We can quibble about the attractions within the Empire’s grand old exterior walls, but I applaud your vision of its future. Now how do we get your vision or indeed any proposal for re-development move from idea to implementation and physical construction? Money makes dreams come true. The Empire and many other of Barbados’ iconic heritage sites need to be adopted by super-rich godfarthers (or godmothers). Russian oligarchs? Arabian Oil Princes? European Business Magnates? Hollywood Moguls? The Chinese? Or “Crowd-sourcing” This is not being cynical. As a Bajan that actually used to go to the Empire back in its glory days I would love to see its renovation and certainly wouldn’t be averse to joining others in making a small donation to that dream.

    • Mac10 May 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Zoe, I love the ideas for the place.

      Every time I see The Empire, it makes me sad that such a place is being left to rot away.

      I hope your vision comes true.

    • Zoe Osborne May 21, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      Thank you Winston.

      I do agree with you and I guess that I hope that with this proposal it will get people thinking about it again and maybe bring the building to the attention of the “right” person with the funds.

      Investing in projects such as these will be very helpful to our tourism as well. With the right design innovation, people will make an effort to visit our island to see our modern and historic architecture.

  4. Alex Alleyne May 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    i think “pigs will fly” before that idea come to pass . Over and over from one administration to another we keep hearing things but it remain the same .

    • Zoe Osborne May 21, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      If we keep pushing, hopefully it can sooner. 🙂

  5. Mark Wrd
    Mark Wrd May 20, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    Who owns the land .

  6. Veronica Simon May 21, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    I love this idea. This is the sort of fresh, young, forward-looking approach that is needed in our islands.Too often we accuse young people of not caring for history or heritage. Here is a young architect proposing an excellent way of utilising the old in a way which promotes a sense of community in a new era, without letting go of the original beauty of the external historic structure.

  7. Earla-Ashlee Massiah May 24, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I love the quote at the end — its speaks to the pessimistic and the hopeless; and it’s straightforward and to the point!

    The concept is perfect especially for the surrounding businesses – the library, minibus area, banking, bus terminal – it can be that cool relaxing waiting/meeting area.

    It would be so amazing if this idea can become a reality so to preserve the history of The Empire.


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