Yr Ffrwnes, Llanelli

Y Ffwrnes - The Furnace, the symbol of heat, energy and social drama created by Llanelli's industrial past was the inspiration for the new theatre. The external metal tiles are an expression of the outer casing and the hot mix of reds, yellows and oranges of the seating in the main theatre form the fire at the heart. It is recongnised by local people and visitors as a contemporary expression of Llanelli's history in tin-making, creating a relevant setting for art and drama in a regenerated and vibrant new town centre, and establishing a rapport and sense of ownership by the community. This is reinforced by bringing the old chapel and Sunday school into the project, which has allowed, through sensitive alterations and restoration, the formation of a new studio theatre and community space whilst maintaining a place of worship.
Planning and Design

Planning and Design Process

The Brief

In 2005 Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC) commissioned a study which confirmed a need for facilities to serve the catchment area of approx. 260,000 population and recommended a new theatre:

  • Seating 500 including a forestage/orchestra pit and fly tower.
  • A smaller scale flexible theatre space seating approx. 100 to meet the needs of local groups and encourage local creativity.
  • This arrangement being practical for the Welsh theatre circuit.

The intention was to enable local residents to achieve easier access to arts and entertainment, make the shopping centre more attractive and boost tourism and life to town centre at night. All in line with the CCC Unitary Development Plan.

Site selection

These findings were not site specific but became the basis of the brief on the old Stepney Hotel site in Llanelli town centre. However the site selection was made when CCC began a joint venture with a private developer to rejuvenate the adjacent area for retail, hotel and cinema facilities. The new cultural quarter, “East Gate”. In addition, adjacent to the Stepney hotel site was the Zion Chapel and Sunday school which the Trustees offered the Council in exchange for smaller facilities in the same location. These buildings are Grade 2 star Listed.

Key design issues

  • Preserve the architectural integrity/history of the Chapel buildings.
  • Develop continuity between the new and old to create a recognisable identity.
  • Accommodate practical constraints -retaining Water Street as a service route,  pedestrian traffic only, flood consequence considerations.
  • Linking the development design with the Councils streetscape design guides.
  • Considerations for possible public art.
  • Incorporating local highway design requirements e.g. taxis.
  • Complete accessibility for disabled people.


For 200 years the chimneys of steel, copper and tin works dominated the town skyline. Llanelli is nicknamed ‘Tinopolis’ and ‘Sospan’ (saucepans were one of the town’s major exports).  The cauldron of energy, heat, and social drama created by this industry is the inspiration for the Design theme of Y Ffwrness  (The Furnace)Theatre.  The predominantly metal external skin of the building is the casing of the Furnace. The main auditorium, its centre, has “random” red, yellow, and orange coloured seating reflecting the “fire” within the furnace itself. Passing through the foyer spaces these colours continue in a more subdued setting. Together with wood and stainless steel surfaces they create a unique character to the theatre. It is a modern reflection of the towns past, creating a suitable setting for art and drama in a regenerated, vibrant town centre. The public will enter the foyer as a space which educates, stimulates and encourages participation. It will reflect the passion of the artwork displayed, and the drama created on stage.

Restoration and re use

Both Listed buildings received major refurbishment of their fabric. Existing features retained where ever possible and matched with suitable modern elements. The ground floor of the Sunday school provided the space for a new place of worship for the congregation, whilst a new floor was installed to facilitate a flexible studio theatre, The Stepney Theatre, for 100 people. By returning many features to their original format around modern technology an environment has been created that is conducive to innovation and experiment.  The rear of both the chapel and Sunday school buildings house new changing rooms.  Chapel buildings are linked at first floor to the new build theatre. This link, which crosses the old Water Street, contains a multipurpose performance space. The geometry of this link ensures that the Chapel buildings retain their own space and historic identity.

New Theatre

The angularity and solidity of the Chapel buildings is contrasted by the rounded flowing form of the new building. Clad in multi coloured metal tiles (a link to Llanelli’s past). The façade is intended to attract audiences to a vibrant and dramatic building. The 500 seat theatre is an innovative ‘21st Century facility’, the stage and auditorium being on the same level gives an adaptable solution to staging, orchestra pit, seating and function flexibility. Scenery is moved by means of ‘mechanical flying’ as opposed to manual operated scene lifting . All main areas are DDA accessible including the lighting rig area. The foyer space is adequate but limited due to the site area constraints. There is a small café at ground floor level, but no restaurant. This is accepted by the client as they have a wish to coordinate and respect existing and new adjacent catering facilities. All changing rooms and administrative areas are at the rear of the building. Glazing to the elevation to the ‘town square’ with a clearly identified main entrance, provides glimpses of foyer activity, offering an “inclusive” approach to passers-by. The curved form of the elevation defines an area in front of the entrance for theatre-goers and a venue for street theatre. The external space below the first floor link has been named the “Tunnel Theatre” and is used by youth groups for street performance.


The project started on site in November 2010 with a contract period of 96 weeks. It became operational in January 2013.

Key Sustainability Points

Green technologies

The main sustainable technologies used on the ffwrnes were; a 10kW solar array to provide 8412kwh free electricity per annum, 10m2 solar panels to heat the hot water to the building, 55kW heat / 33kW electric CHP to heat the building and provide free electricity, rainwater harvesting to provide water for flushing toilets, and LED lighting to all front of house areas and main auditorium. All centrally controlled via scene setter panel.


The majority of the materials specified were Green Guide A-rated. The main contractor targeted the order of material that was responsibly sourced and focussed on minimizing waste on site. The main contactor targeted a reduction in minimizing site impacts through monitoring pollution, reducing CO2 and operating an Environmental Management System on site.


The brief dictated that the scheme was to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.  This was both a client aspiration along with funding criteria set by the Welsh Government. All of these contribute to minimise the energy demand of the building.   As a result of the sustainable technologies, the EPC score for the Ffwrnes improved from 37 to 30 giving a 20% improvement on the building emissions.

Community regeneration

Retaining the existing Chapel and Sunday School Buildings meant sustaining the heritage of 2 buildings of major significance within the town centre.  The scheme provides an attraction to help to rejuvenate one of many struggling town centres, sustaining visitor numbers and supporting local business.


"As a key member of the project team Lawray Architects delivered an insightful interpretation of the clients objectives and design aspirations. The brief required that the architects deliver a highly versatile and vibrant building, drawing reference from the physical character of Llanelli town centre buildings and inspiration from local history, whilst asserting its own identity as a major public building and at the same time complimenting, not overpowering, the listed buildings. I am pleased to say that, in my opinion, the building does just that. The completed venue inspires and sparks debate and has successfully accommodated sell out audiences since it opened in January 2013. The blend of build quality, functionality and impact is just right delivering a design quality indicator at the higher end of the scale.” Ian Jones, Pennaeth Hamdden / Head of Leisure Carmarthenshire County Council


Carmarthenshire theatres

Lawray Architects

Mott Macdonald

NJP Partnership 

McCann and Partners

ACT Consultancy Services

Hunter Acoustics



Design and Construction Information

Client: Carmarthenshire County Council

Architect: Lawray Architects. For further information about the design and delivery team, please contact the Architects.

Date of Completion: January 2013

Contract value: Circa £14m

Site Area: 4500m2

Funding: European Regional Development Fund £5.15million, Welsh Assembly Government Targeted Match Fund £5.15million, Carmarthenshire County Council £4million

Awards: Carmarthenshire Building Control Building Excellence Award 2015, Shortlisted for Eisteddfod Gold Medal 2014, Regional Finalist Civic Trust Awards 2014, RICS Wales Awards 2014 – Best Leisure & Tourism Project