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Ruhr energy.

A stolid 1960s building has been transformed and made much more welcoming with a dramatic lofty glass foyer: a stage for public life.

Recklinghausen's theatre was one of the glories of the Ruhr when it was finished in the '60s. It was built as a centrepiece of the Ruhr festival, a working class Festspielzentrum, with 1050 seats and a 1200[m.sup.2] stage.

Splendid though it must have seemed 35 years ago, by the beginning of this decade it seemed pretty stolid, dark and unwelcoming. So an invited competition was held to make the place work as a conference centre as well as theatre (the Ruhr festival uses the place for only about 100 days a year). And at the same time, the building was to be made more welcoming - the original design incorporated a heavy projecting portico, an abstracted Classical design that might almost have been built 30 years earlier. The portico made the whole entrance sequence sombre and rather grim, comparable in gritty solemnity to some of the more stolid public buildings being erected in the other half of the country at the time.

Auer & Weber won the competition for revitalizing the building with a design made dramatic by a simple bold stroke demolition of the old portico and its replacement with a glass lobby. Once that decision had been made, much detailed work was needed to marry new and old, to make a complex and varied interaction of light and space, and to moderate the effects of external climate on the glass box.

To achieve the latter, a delicate new pergola-portico, rather similar to the one made by Norman Foster outside the Mediatheque at Nimes, greets visitors to the main entrance in the glass south-east front. Finely-honed aluminum lamellae carried on a steel frame supported on slender steel columns shade the glass, gently and elegantly welcoming you in towards the two main doors. From this side, much of the life of the building can be seen through the transparent wall. In front is the cavernous original foyer which leads to the cloakroom under the auditorium; to the right is the reception desk; to the left, an open stair rises up to theatre level, and beyond that is a little cafe which projects through the glass wall. Light floods the whole space, from the glass wall and from lay-lights high above.

One of the most difficult parts of the whole enterprise was to arrange links between new and old. The grid of the stainless steel mullions and transoms in the glass wall echoes that of the grim grey basalt cladding slabs of the original building which have been carefully retained. The presence of structure is minimized by trussing the tubular columns which carry the walls' vertical loads in a way that is now familiar. Sideways stiffening is given by an ingenious system of horizontal cabling.

As well as knocking down the old front, the architects removed the two stairs at each side of the original lobby. In the spaces so released, links between front and back, new and old, could be created. And so could new meeting rooms which are needed to make the place into a conference centre. Conference functions centre around the first floor Grosser Saal, the big hall, which is rather bizarrely interposed between the entrance plane and the theatre. In the absence of a conference, the hall becomes a sort of foyer for the theatre itself, through which you can walk to the long bar behind the auditorium, and then are deflected left or right to subsidiary foyers, from which you reach the doors along the sides of the auditorium. (This space was renovated in the late '80s and has scarcely been touched in the most recent transformation.) But when the hall is arranged for conferences, you have to walk round it at each end, moving from the finely honed first floor balcony in the glass zone back to the side foyers.

The cumbersome planning of the first floor is of course inherited from the original building. Judicious insertion of bars and other events (a terrace for instance above the cafe, a gallery on second floor level projecting into the big thin glazed volume) has made the spatial sequences rather less clumsy than they look on plan. The great hall has been made much more cheerful than it was by demolishing parts of its walls and replacing them with glass louvres. So the hall draws in light from the glass box, and has become a much more luminous space. A more difficult problem was the low and heavy entrance level foyer which some have likened to an underground car park. Here radical change was simply out of the question within the restricted budget and the parti of the original building. So the big beams and the dark walls have been lightened up with paint - orange, yellow, and blue-green round the new circular bar. The old slate floor has been retained, as have some of the other fine finishes from the original building.

On the whole, the marriage has been happy. Difficult moments like the workaday side stairwells are enlivened by light and colourful murals on the landings. The extremely clunky inherited first floor circulation is made tolerable by luminance: an abundance of daylight and, at night, carefully orchestrated artificial sources that make the formerly dingy building into a beacon in the centre of the town and, appropriately, set the members of the audience onto a three-dimensional urban stage.


Auer + Weber + Partner, Stuttgart

Project team

Martin Gessert, Eberhard Kastner, Albrecht Randecker, with Markus Lanz, Robert Plail, Beate Schorer, Fleur Keller, Heike Muller, Heike Schulte


Roland Halbe/CONTUR
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Conference Center and Theater, Recklinghausen, Germany
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
Previous Article:Culture club.
Next Article:Vaulting ambition.

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