The Marlowe Theatre Vs. Canterbury Cathedral: A Look at Canterbury’s Architecture

Which is better, the iconic Canterbury Cathedral or the dazzling new Marlowe Theatre? Emile Harris casts a critical eye towards Canterbury’s diverse range of architecture.

The juxtaposition of the Marlowe Theatre and the Cathedral across the skyline of Canterbury is distinctive – especially when both individual pieces of architecture are in such a relatively small city. Wherever you look up in the city you are either greeted by the keeper of Canterbury that is the Cathedral, or by the gleaming apex of the Marlowe theatre. But this contrast begs the question of what style is better suited to this small city?

Canterbury has always been a popular historic city, dating back to Iron Age settlements where the Romans then took over. But the one building that always repeats itself throughout history as the heart of Canterbury is the Cathedral. A centre of pilgrimage throughout Medieval England, the Cathedral has been established since 597AD, with its importance as a centre of pilgrimage increasing following the murder of Thomas Becket, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered within the Cathedral following conflict with Henry II. This pilgrimage has been transformed into the tourism of today with the Cathedral drawing in thousands of visitors on a regular basis, becoming one of the most visited cities in the United Kingdom. This is also exaggerated by the close links with mainland Europe meaning coach-loads of children are crossing the English Channel to visit the city with their school.

From one building and events that transpired from it, a whole city has been supported by the tourism it generates. Market stalls, shops, restaurants, bars and pubs have all been geared up towards the tourism in the area, in order to maximise Canterbury’s economy by keeping the tourists entertained. This is where the Marlowe Theatre’s purpose lies.

The Marlowe Theatre was completed in September 2011, seating 1,994 people within the auditorium. The development was to enhance and revive Canterbury’s economy, whilst also mirroring the carnival atmosphere of the city with all the festivals that take place on a regular basis. Within the envelope of the building, small windows are placed strategically to create views over Canterbury, particularly focusing on its closest rival: Canterbury Cathedral. This brings a sense of belonging into the modern structure, constantly relating the Marlowe Theatre to its surrounding heritage.

So what building style and type is best for Canterbury? The Cathedral represents the deep history that lies within the walls, the origins of what founded this small city. Whereas the Marlowe Theatre epitomises the modern day Canterbury being the home of festivities, entertaining residents, students and tourists. The answer is that neither one is superior in today’s society. The Cathedral is long established, but the Marlowe plays homage and supports the role of the Cathedral in Marlowe’s own development and creation. The Cathedral existed first, and of course without the Cathedral it could be argued that the Marlowe Theatre would not exist – or at least the design would be significantly different. But if time or histories were eliminated, and we just focus on the present, they support each other and this alone is the true sign of successful architecture. If two entirely different buildings can complement each other, then that is an accolade a city can only dream of.



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