The idea of designing a musical theatre was instantly attractive to Ben van Berkel. Coming from a family where his mother sang in choirs and he himself played piano, music is an integral part of his being and one that he wanted to encapsulate with simplicity. With a vision of optimising the quality of the acoustics he also wanted to turn the Music Theatre into a place where people could not only hear music but see music. This experience occurs upon approaching the building with a printed facade, silk screen on glass, the shapes vague musical notes. The transparency allows for a musical experience which can be felt both outside and inside the building, this concept born from a wish to ‘articulate the acoustic space kaleidoscopically’ around the visitor.
Once inside the building you are instantly hit by the dramatic red glossy staircase which contrasts to the muted skin-tones used elsewhere in the building. Creating a point of focus and a feel of prestige, the staircase leads the way to the theatre where music of all varieties will be performed by the students.
The use of the space by students, van Berkel described, was integral to the building’s ability to interact with its function. Integrating classical and modernistic elements the design relates to the students' activities which would range from classical music to electronica. Although part of a University it was important to van Berkel that the Theatre retained its status as that. “I believe that theatres should look like theatres. Theatres don’t always look like theatres and I wanted to really bring the quality that you can experience theatre in many ways – with so many realities, could this be brought into the outside of the building?”
This project is indicative of the firm’s popularity for cultural projects. UN Studio’s reputation for quality architecture in the arts has seen its involvement in the spectacular Theatre Agora in the Netherlands and now the design of the monumental Dubai Museum. Van Berkel expressed that the museum, similar to the Music Theatre, was an opportunity for him to integrate the modernity of New Dubai and the ancient relics of Old Dubai and to create a new form of museum. Taking inspiration from art fairs he has suggested and designed for flexibility within the space. Culture, he admits, is becoming a priority in Dubai: “The younger generation is so large – 30-40% are under 25 or 26 (in Dubai) and I think that there is a real will to think about the kind of cultural activities there,” he said.
Back in Belgium the Music Theatre is a cultural space that will also be enjoyed by generations of the youth, now a space where aspirations can be realised and perhaps even where Ben van Berkel could continue his passion for music and brush up on his piano skills.
Niki May Young