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A new town hall and theatre in a provincial Dutch town combines municipal and cultural functions with sensitivity and refinement to create a dignified civic focus.

Modest, provincial and unremarkable, like so many small Dutch towns, ljsselstein lies just to the south of Utrecht. The town needed a new building that combined the civic role of a town hall with the cultural dimension of a small theatre. For the local community it would be an important embodiment of municipal self-esteem through its public spaces and functions. UN Studio were commissioned to produce a solution which brings an exotic whiff of contemporary architectural thought to the provinces. The new building continues the thread of radical spatial experimentation based on 'circulation wrapped around internal landscapes' manifest in such recent projects as the Nijmegen Museum (AR March 2000) and Mobius House (AR September 1999).

There are clear formal and material similarities with Nijmegen, especially in the use of translucent glass cladding that sheathes the building in a diaphanous membrane. At night, light palpitates gently through the delicate glass skin, dematerializing the building mass and hinting at the activities inside. Set on a tight site on the edge of the old town centre, the compact parti resembles a kite with its tail wrapped around it. The larger volumes of the theatre and council chamber form the body of the kite, with a long, low bar of municipal offices cranked around it like a trailing tail. Other spaces include a smaller hall for civil marriage ceremonies and a public cafe attached to the theatre. The kinks of the office bar form a series of internal courtyards, landscaped in a fashionably stark manner with rocks, saplings and thin rectangular pools.

The narrowest end of the site confronts the main street of the town centre and it is here that the building presents its principal public face. Both theatre and town hall required a presence on this constricted frontage, as both fulfil emblematic public functions. Subtle variations in the rhythm of the glass cladding distinguish the theatre from the town hall and the theatre foyer is also elevated on pilotis formed from blade-like concrete slabs. This generates views and routes through the building to the internal courtyards behind the main public facade enhancing a sense of openness and permeability.

Theatre and town hall share a common entrance, from which a gentle ramp leads up to the marriage hall and a staircase to the council chamber. UN Studio's 'internal landscapes' are a series of dignified, luminous spaces, linked by a promenade architecturale. Materials such as raw concrete, glass and wood are used with characteristic economy and refinement. A rare flash of colour is provided by the sensuous womb-like theatre, with its walls of vivid red. Throughout, the intermingling of public and private activities and spaces is sensitively resolved; it might seem perverse to attempt to integrate hermetic municipal offices with the gaiety of an evening at the theatre, but it does mean that the building has a life after dark, becoming a social as well as civic focus and attracting people to the town centre.


UN Studio, Amsterdam

Project team

Ben van Berkel, Aad Krom, Harm Wassink, Henri Borduin, Jeroen Steur, Oliver Heckmann, Luc Veeger, Casper Le Fevre, Marion Regitko, Marc Dijkman, Kirl Heiner
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:new theatre and town hall, Ijsselstein, Netheralnds
Author:Cleet, Connie Van
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:May 1, 2001
Next Article:Holmesward bound.

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