ROYAL DANISH THEATER / COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
CLIENT: Royal Danish Theater/Ministry of Culture
SITE: a prominent open plaza/wharf/quay called the Kvæsthusbro, fronting the harbor and the new Opera House across the main watercourse
PROGRAM: 3 theater complex with associated support spaces including workshops, storage, offices, rehearsal spaces, and public spaces, including lobbies, restaurant, meeting rooms, and parking; adjacent public plaza
COST: DKK 560.6 Million
COMPETITION: Fall 2001 (competition)
NOTES: structural steel frame with longspan elements over theater spaces and main lobby on cast-in-place concrete basement barge/mat on precast pilings in partially reclaimed land; corrugated metal and steel curtainwall cladding
The proposed design provides the City of Copenhagen with a new Royal Danish Theater that is an iconic, landmark building appropriate in stature and presence to its prominent waterfront location along the Kvæsthusbro, in a manner that also respects the uniquely nuanced urban position that this new building will occupy.
This new theater will serve as a link between the old theater district at the Nyhavn and the new civic area being developed across the harbor, creating an urban ensemble that unites the old city, the waterfront, and the new civic area in the Holmen in a manner that is experientially greater than each of its constituent elements.
The new Theater will occupy the southern end of the Kvæsthusbro. The design’s principal facade, offering entry to the shared foyer for the two larger performance spaces, fits the large, complex building comfortably onto this prominent site in line with the other structures along the southern side of the Sankt Annæ Plads. By continuing the massing and scale of these buildings, the primary facade of the new Theater “draws the city into the project area” along the axis of the Sankt Annæ Plads, while simultaneously preserving the view corridor across the water to the Holmen area. By siting the theater here, out of the way, a major “urban plaza” is created on the Kvæsthusbro quay, uniting the two performance spaces into a comprehensive “precinct” that includes the harbor fairway. A proposed subterranean 500-car parking structure can be sited beneath this new plaza at the southernmost end of the quay, with a bus stop and drop-off area for the Theater located at grade. Here, as well, the future metro stop could be located.
While the principle facade of the design faces north, across the harbor to the New Opera House, the new theater will also address the old theater to the south. A smaller facade looks toward the upper harbor, taking advantage of the more favorable solar conditions and adjacency to the picturesque Nyhavn, and providing a foyer for the large rehearsal space. This foyer also serves as an entry for the ballet and orchestra staff, as well as another public entry for the administrative and theater office. This secondary public facade furnishes an intermediate destination point for pedestrians heading northward along the waterfront promenade from the Nyhavn to the new public plaza beyond.
Service access to the new Theater is from the Kvæsthusgade along the building’s western elevation to a service entry tucked discreetly into a fold in the building, next to the existing pump house. By this fold the design is able to conform to the geometry of the adjacent urban grid, tying the new Theater more completely into the city, while simultaneously turning to address the new Opera House across the harbor fairway. From an urban standpoint, this twist away from the established geometry of the adjacent context underscores the new facility’s role as a physical liaison between the older city and the newer development planned for the Holmen area. Architecturally, this geometric shift serves to foreground the Royal Danish Theater as a landmark building, conferring upon it an iconic presence appropriate to the institution it represents.
The architectural strategies in the proposed design foreground the uniquely communal nature of theater as an art form, and represent this sense of community at the civic level. This happens on both functional and formal levels—in fact, it occurs through the celebration of their congruence.
The idiosyncratic elements of the theater building type—many of which, such as the flytower and scenery rigging, are typically regarded as unsightly mechanical distractions worthy only of concealment—are in this design asked to step forward and assert their presence, proclaiming the building as a place of public performance and civic congregation. Rather than concealing them, we have demonstrably employed them for their symbolic, evocative possibilities.
The flytower is the most recognizable physical expression of the theater building type. Because of its typically awkward proportions and vast size relative to the rest of the house, the flytower is usually ignored as architecture, or attempts are made to isolate it formally. As a repository for the scenery, however, it effectively represents the production being staged; it is an encapsulation of the primary physical accoutrements necessary for performance, and is thus a signifier of the theatrical experience it “contains.”
Instead of hiding it, therefore, we have featured it. In fact, by devising additional complimentary forms atop the black box theater and the large rehearsal room (which doubles as an additional performance space), a group of flytowers is created, joyously announcing the various performances occurring within. The surfaces of these towers are designed to receive projections at night that will herald the evening’s shows. Taken together, this ensemble of lofted objects proclaims the new Royal Danish Theater as the community of theaters that it actually is.
Similarly, the raked seating of the theater house is repeated as an architectural element throughout the project, as exterior public seating areas and lounging areas inside the foyers (where they look outward toward the urban “stages” of the adjacent plaza spaces). These sculptural objects promote the sense of the theater audience as an event, connoting the possibilities for community inherent to the theatrical experience. Their distribution outside of the theater houses and into the surrounding plazas reinforces the Theater’s larger, extended role in the life of the City.
Lastly, the curtain, which is the symbolic boundary between the magical theatrical experience and the mundane experience of everyday reality, is similarly “featured” as a reoccurring motif throughout the new design.
The glazing of the principle facades is rendered as transparent, colorful curtains of rippling glass. Immediately inside and outside these glass “curtain”-walls are frames and rigging for flying scenery. Additionally, large colored curtains envelop the full height of the lobby-facing walls of the theater houses.
The disposition of these multiple curtained layers, from the “curtain”-walls along the northern and southern facades, to the exterior scenery rigging, to the curtains that envelop the theater houses, to the stage curtain itself, serves to expand this experience of a transition from “reality” to “fantasy” which typically occurs only at the thin membrane of the stage curtain. As a result, what was once a fairly discrete boundary between “art” and “mundane reality” is transformed into a multi-layered, veiled spatial procession with extents that are much harder to pinpoint.
The architecture of the new Theater therefore reinforces the sense that the impact of the theatrical performances staged therein will remain with the audience well past the event and out beyond the physical confines of the building itself, and thus that the art of the theater is relevant and meaningful in everyday existence. Its architecture therefore defines the new Royal Danish Theater as an integral and integrated part of the life of the city of Copenhagen.
This modern facility will accommodate drama productions as well as the occasional musical, opera or ballet. The present design serves as an exemplar of a well-functioning playhouse for these activities. Rooms are grouped by function and arranged in a logical and quickly understood manner. Dressing rooms are in close proximity to stages and circulation cores. Scenery passes through large tall corridors that link each of the performance spaces, including Rehearsal Room A, to loading, scenery storage and assembly workshop, all within a footprint that minimizes distances between each. Ample technical areas support the functional requirements of each performance space.
In the Mainstage, performers will look upon a sea of faces as they engage the audience. Continental seating rows slope upwards toward the back of house and are then flipped vertically to form seating galleries that fold as close as possible to the stage wrapping around the orchestra level seating. The galleries are stacked with minimal structure depth and transparent railings emphasizing the presence of the audience to itself and performer.
The seating rows are staggered for optimal sightlines and arrayed along arcs for audience intimacy. When the seats of the first seven rows are removed, the rows can be raised on sectional lifts to stage level extending the performance area like a peninsula within the auditorium to create a strong thrust stage. Conversely, when a minimal stage apron is desired, the orchestra pit lift can be lowered to the seating level to accommodate additional seating rows. Lowering the lift below the seating level provides an orchestra pit below the stage apron that houses 35 musicians.
Outrigger pipes along the galleries and catwalks provide generous lighting positions. The undersides of the catwalks are lined with folded acoustical reflectors that define the ceiling plane of the auditorium. The control rooms are located at back of house below the first gallery at optimal elevation for video projection. Followspot booths are located at back of house above the top gallery at a 30-degree angle from the stage at the proscenium opening.
Doors at the sides of the stage apron provide alternate actors entrances. The large proscenium can be framed down depending upon the requirements of an individual performance. The two side stages, equal in size to the stage, can be separated from the stage house by sliding sound-rated doors, and the backstage can by isolated by a shutter that opens by flying into the loft. The fly loft can serve a range of rigging systems including counterweighted, hemp and motorized, with fly and loading galleries and a grid deck 24 meters above the stage deck. The understage supports a cylindrical revolving stage incorporating multiple stage elevators for scenery changes and effects.
The state-of-the-art black box theater will be a highly flexible experimental laboratory for artists to collaborate on the development and production of innovative performances.
A computerized lift system makes numerous seating and stage configurations possible including theatre-in-the-round, three-quarter-round, end-stage, and traverse layouts. In order to achieve great flexibility, with minimal labor and changeover time, 20 sectional row lifts have been arranged side by side. Every four adjacent row lifts are mounted above a main scissor-lift to attain lateral stability without the need of guide rails. The lifts can travel from basement level, to stage level, to gallery level, and anywhere in between allowing sunken and raised seating and staging. The seating folds and pivots to the underside of the lift decks to be stored without requiring removal.
Circulation zones and technical areas encircle the performance space. Actors can enter at any corner of any level, including from the basement below via a lift. Galleries along all four walls serve as raised performance areas, audience seating areas, and lighting galleries. The gallery railings are removable and vertically adjustable to serve the various gallery functions. At each of the loading doors the gallery deck can be lifted like a drawbridge to allow the loading of large scenic elements. Catwalks run the perimeter of the space above the galleries, providing easily accessible lighting positions.
The adjustable ceiling plane is defined by an array of flying wire rope tension grid modules that provide a work/lighting zone over the entire seating/staging area. The wire rope, strung in tension like a tennis racket with cables at 50 mm on center, is framed in structural steel, and is transparent to theatrical lighting fixtures—there are no shadows or imaging from projection through the grid mesh. Theatrical lighting is aimed through or around the perimeter of the grid at the scenery and performers below. Each module is rigged from the fly loft that rises above the entire black box with a grid deck 20 meters above the stage. Modules can be linked, flown out, pivoted, or removed by adjusting keys and lift cables. The openings between grid modules provide rigging wells for flying props, scenery, and scenic backdrops.