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Herman Hertzberger's new local theatre for the small town of Uden is a compact yet dynamic composition with a luminous promenade space at its heart.

Uden is a town of approximately 40 000 souls in the middle of the Netherlands. Near the town's amorphous market square, Herman Hertzberger has built the new Markant Theatre. The Markant is a municipal facility welcoming drama, musicals, opera and rock concerts. If you stand back in the street, you can see its cubic black and white flytower. But for most passersby, the Markant presents itself as a vertical Constructivist billboard, with an enormous tilted window which extends across the facade to illuminate a multi-storeyed foyer within. When you attend the theatre in Uden, you are also on display on the town stage.

The Markant site extends north from the Dutch equivalent of a high street through to a backlands of parking bays, small businesses and the rears of apartment houses. Logically, Hertzberger has placed the inevitable bulk of the flytower where it is visually less obtrusive and can be easily serviced by trucks and vans. It is painted in opposing quadrants of black and white, an exercise reminiscent of duotone de Stijl and early forms of naval camouflage. While the site's western edge has a gated lane for fire escape, more intimate spaces (rooms for performing artists, showers and lavatories, staff offices) run along the eastern perimeter. The director's office protrudes out above the street to lock Hertzberger's modest composition into place.

Composition is not perhaps the criterion most associated with Hertzberger's work. Since the late '50s, he has produced an important series of schools, houses and offices attentive to the components of construction and to the creation of social space. In the 1990s, however, a new sensibility has infused Hertzberger's work. Colour is playing an increasingly important role. So too, it seems, is the gathering of secondary elements (exposed staircases, swatches of gridded glazing, columns configured as pylons or trees) within some all-embracing gesture. At Uden, as at the Chasse Theatre in Breda (AR February 1996), it is Hertzberger's roof that unites the public perception and experience of the architecture.

You enter the Markant by slipping past a ticket kiosk. This is a continuation of the brick skin that lines one side of the billboard and wraps around the director's office with its horizontal slit window. (High above, the brick and metal mesh tower also cranks inwards to house a fire escape.) From here you can either go up to a recessed cloakroom and a meeting room with its clerestory panel of glass block, or down to an expanse of tables and chairs beneath the tilted window and a free-standing bar at the lowest level. All around, an ensemble of catwalks and open stairways enclosed in clear glass and baby blue solid or perforated metal - works its way about the auditorium with its hide of tiny hemispherical indentations. This interior landscape is also joined by the glazed piston of a lift.

Propped by a row of X-shaped supports, the foyer's canopy is occasionally eroded by circles through which horizontal members are exposed. You enter on both sides of the auditorium slightly above street level and arrive into a sea of seats (neither too soft nor expansive) designed by the architect. Above is the balcony with 187 of the Markant's total of 684 places; on each side, horizontal bands house speakers and zigzag forward for acoustic absorption. Ahead is the generously-proportioned stage with its sliding proscenium and an orchestra pit that can descend into the basement. Only the vivid spectrum of seat upholstery (grey purple, muted green, burnt orange) injects a carnival spirit.

Technical and delivery spaces are arranged about the stage. There is a green room at first floor level with a window looking north into the mid-block townscape. The corridor linking the changing rooms is illuminated by a continuous strip of glazing overlooking the foyer below. One door leads out to a projectionist's bridge high in this space (with the ceiling above dramatically pulled away to allow light to wash through); another leads from near the director's office back down to front-of-house. Although the building is describable in terms of volume and material, the architecture of Hertzberger only achieves its full meaning through the physical exploration of its possibilities.

Architect Herman Hertzberger, Amsterdam Project team

Herman Hertzberger, Patrick Fransen, Heleen Reedijk, Folkert Stropsma, Arienne Matser, Jan van den Berg

Structural engineer ABT

Mechanical engineer Sweegers & de Bruijn

Theatre consultant Prinssen & Bus

Photographs Duccio Malagamba
COPYRIGHT 1999 EMAP Architecture
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Title Annotation:local theater for the small town of Uden, Netherlands
Author:Ryan, Raymund
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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