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Top of the pops: this arrestingly amoebic new concert hall in Breda exploits the tension between old and new elements.

As part of an urban development masterplan for a now abandoned military barracks in Breda (overseen by the ubiquitous OMA), a former officer-cadets' mess hall has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis, transformed into a venue for pop and rock concerts. Erick van Egeraat was commissioned to remodel and extend the stolid late nineteenth-century building and has done so with his customary brio, orchestrating provocative tensions between old and new that recall previous projects such as his intervention at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork (AR August 2000), where a new volume clad in a rippling brick skin was inserted into an existing historic structure, and the ING Bank in Budapest (AR July 1995), where a bulbous interloper spectacularly ruptured the roof of a conventional courtyard block. Here, unlike Cork and Budapest which were tight urban sites, there is more scope to make an object building in the generous open spaces of the former military campus, but the architectural outcome still feeds on notions of duality, otherness and surprise. Fastened like a parasitical growth on to the sober, rectangular volume of the mess hall is an extraordinary warped cocoon structure clad in a voluptuously ribbed skin of unpatinated copper. The tautly stretched and distorted contours suggest that some grotesque life form is about to burst out of its cuprous chrysalis and engulf the scrubbed, trim block of the renovated mess hall.


The relationship between host and parasite is essentially symbiotic. Served by the mess building, now reconfigured to house a cafe, bar, foyers and wcs, the cocoon contains a 650 capacity concert hall, split over a ground floor and dress circle mezzanine level. The main entrance is cleft into the intersection of the competing chalk-and-cheese forms, where the teasing curve of the copper carapace meets the ramrod straight edge of the brick wall. Out of concert hours, the entrance is sealed up to become a seamless part of the metal membrane (though there is secondary access through the mess hall). Apart from some gill-like ventilation slots incised into its flanks, the chrysalis is perplexingly impervious, with no clues as to its function. Only during concerts, when the entrances are exposed to ingest the public, and a huge loading dock door swings open like the maw of a ferry, does the building reveal its hand.


To provide much needed acoustic protection, the auditorium is enclosed in a secondary shell, so the two containers--copper outer chrysalis and inner auditorium--are rather like Russian dolls, though the auditorium has its own distinctive amoebic form that does not precisely follow the contours of the external casing. Clad in layers of insulation material and faced in horizontal strips of wood to modulate sound, the auditorium shell is suspended from the outer carapace, itself a layered composite structure of steel and concrete, finished with a 100mm thick coating of in-situ concrete underneath the copper epidermis.

The void between the two shells varies in width, providing access to dressing rooms and backstage storage areas as well as creating an acoustic airlock around the auditorium. Fluorescent lighting illuminates the white underside of the outer shell generating a soft iridescence that evokes the mystery of a subterranean grotto, with the cave-like auditorium at its heart.


Clearly the product of increasingly sophisticated computer generation, which in turn forces a kind of inventiveness with materials and construction (somehow the thing has to morph from screen fantasy to buildable reality), van Egeraat's concert hall adds to his repertoire of provocative blobs; indeed the carefully choreographed relationship between old (orthogonal, logical) and new (freeform, indulgent) embodies a neat, if slightly ironic, snapshot of certain aspects of the Dutch architectural scene. Perhaps, given the nature of the programme, it isn't quite provocative enough--what might seem edgy to Budapest bankers might not have the same impact on Breda's youthful pop-pickers. Yet apparently the building is popular and, despite its formal pretensions, seems laid back enough to go with the flow.



Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects, Rotterdam

Structural engineers

Pieters Bouwtechniek, Ove Arup & Partners

Acoustic consultants

Ove Arup & Partners

Copper cladding



Christian Richters




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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects
Author:Van Cleef, Connie
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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