Cinema City – a medieval gem

You may not expect to watch the latest Oscar-winning film in a medieval merchant’s house, but the success of Norwich’s Cinema City is a tribute to how the city keeps its history alive.

The building known as Suckling House was named after the family who owned it in the sixteenth century. With some areas dating back to the fourteenth century, it has seen many renovations over the years.

By the early 1900s, Suckling House and the adjacent Stuart Hall belonged to the Colman family. They had installed a film projector and eventually decided to hand the building over to the city of Norwich. It was to be a public space “for the advancement of education in its widest and most comprehensive sense”.

Main hall prior to redesign

Half a century later the hall was being run as a single screen arts cinema by the Norfolk and Norwich Film Theatre Ltd, but the big change took place between 2004 and 2007. Developments in viewing habits and new ownership by Picturehouse group led to its conversion to a triple screen venue. This and the renovation of cafe, dining and educational spaces presented huge challenges in a Grade-I listed building.

Cafe

Adrian James Acoustics was appointed to create an acoustic design for the three screening rooms, tightly arranged around the Stuart Hall. The largest screen was positioned above two smaller cinemas.

Cinema City Screen One

The ventilation machinery for the cinema screens and projection rooms was mounted directly above Screen One. Comprehensive vibration isolation measures were therefore needed to prevent plant noise from seeping into the other cinemas. It was also vital to minimise crosstalk between cinemas.

Our solution involved jacking up the two smaller screens on concrete slabs with neoprene bearings. This floating design was one of the most ambitious floor installations ever attempted in the UK.

The resulting acoustic design was a great success when the cinema re-opened. In 2009 it was awarded the inaugural Sir Bernard Feilden Award for excellence in alterations and restoration of a historical building, presented by the Norwich Society.

Covered courtyard area

In the 21st century, arts cinemas are continuing to thrive across the UK, and we wish Cinema City a rosy future – complete with its unique architectural history and great acoustics.

Reception area