Manuelle Gautrand Architecture extend and restructure the French National Drama Theatre, Le Comedie de Bethune, despite decades of obstacles
Manuelle Gautrand Architecture has pulled off a dramatic transformation to the Comedie de Bethune, which began life as a movie theatre called Le Palace, first built in the 1930s. The original façade, held up by girders, was all that remained of the historic picture-house when it was demolished in the 1990s.
In 1994, Manuelle Gautrand Architecture won the competition to reconstruct and extend the theatre. However they faced some obstacles in having to wait for permission to demolish an existing house on the corner plot. By 1999 they were able to deliver most of the features, including the main space, dressing rooms, backstage, and a coffee bar, making the best out of the complex and compact site. Having to work around the existing house, on a narrow plot, there were still some necessary features that were missing, such as a rehearsal room for the artists.
The architects integrated the new façade with that of the former 1930s movie theatre, and varnished the surface with a purple glaze and stylised rhombus frieze.
When the house on the corner plot was finally demolished in 2009, the architect was able to begin work on the new extension, which only took 16 months. They were finally able to finish the project and include a rehearsal room, as well as implement new safety features.
Located on the corner plot, where the original house was, the new extension is on three levels, creating new space for rehearsal rooms and offices. The existing structure was also refurbished and updated.
The result is a building that moves through time and history, displaying the the styles and characteristics of the decades in which each stage of work took place, the 1930s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Inside as well, the extension connects all the functions of a vibrant performance space: the lobby connects to the historic hall, the new rehearsal room and space for artists and audience.
The architects wanted the façade of the new extension to integrate and cohere with that of the original, but wanted the style to reflect the current time period. It was clad in weaving metal panels, like rhombuses, coated in a deep black alternating matt and gloss, which reflects light differently. It juxtaposes gently with the deep red-purple façade of the original.
Despite the difficulties of having to work on a project in several stages over a 15-year period, Manuelle Gautrand Architecture has achieved an ambitious project that will enhance the area and promote the arts. It is indeed a unique building with a very unique history.