Open air theatre injects modernist city centre with minimalist performance space
Situated between the gothic Sint Laurenskerk (Saint Laurens cathedral) and the Delftsevaart canal, the Grotekerkplein was formed only during the course of the modernist reconstruction of the city centre of Rotterdam, which was almost entirely destroyed during WW2.
Despite its central location the square hardly plays a role in the city’s life, as no shopping streets connect it to the rest of the city’s public spaces, and only a few facilities are oriented towards the square itself. Instead, a number of building backs define the square’s appearance and atmosphere, leaving it spatially unappealing and dull. Therefore the idea emerged to activate the square programmatically as well as spatially through the construction of a small theater pavilion, in order to fill the displeasing vacuum within the city fabric.
On the initiative of the Rotterdam Rotary Club an invited architectural competition was organized in the autumn of 2004, for which Atelier Kempe Thill submitted the winning entry.
The theatre podium was conceived as a large urban stage. Two service cores - 5m in height - rise from a 50cm high base. Between these two volumes a roof covers 30m in free span, with the resulting open frame forming the stage. The stage space has a double orientation, both towards the square and the water, making it possible for performances to be viewed from both sides. A further possible viewing arrangement could be to place the audience itself on the ‘stage’.The southern service core accommodates a stage curtain measuring 70m in length when unravelled. Depending on the event taking place, this curtain can be used to adjust the stage size, or even completely transform the stage itself into an enclosed ‘curtained space’.
The airiness and temporary character of the event is thus underscored by the effect of the movable textile. The northern service core is mainly reserved for artists’ use; it comprises bathroom facilities, a dressing room, and storage spaces. The integrated kitchen can also be used to operate a small café.
The built structure defies any attempt at a clear programmatic codification or typological classification. Instead it presents itself as an object of confronting emptiness, raising questions, and inciting unexpected types of use. Any functionalist determination or ostensible symbolism has been carefully avoided. A strong iconography emanates from the inviting and monumental roof structure, which at the same time remains pleasantly unobtrusive. The result is a calm and dignified setting for an inspired gathering of the urban population of Rotterdam.