Current model (in progress)

Architecture Project

Theater Design

I originally took part in a one-week program on theater design at the Center for Architecture in New York City. As a participant, I had the opportunity to discover the importance of the conceptual work that lies behind architectural thinking and model building, as well as to visit two Broadway theaters—the Gershwin Theater and the Helen Hayes Theater. I was also introduced to the basics of staging and set design, along with architectural drawing.

By the end of the program, each participant was supposed to design their own theater. To me, a classical theater with a proscenium stage seemed to cause a separation between the audience and the actors behind the so-called “fourth wall”, so I ended up imagining a theater in the round as a means of bringing the performers into the same space as the viewers.

Original model made at the Center for
Architecture in New York City in 2018

The first question I raised as a consequence of my choice to design a theater in the round was the format of the stage itself. Whereas some theaters in the round such as the Cockpit Theater in London have a rectangular stage, others such as the Circle in the Square Theater in New York have opted for an oval stage instead. For my part, I decided to stick with a circular stage in order to ensure the same view of the stage from every angle.

The second issue that came to my mind was the lack of space for the backstage area. While “wings” can always be found on both sides of a proscenium stage, the fact that the audience surrounds the stage in a theater in the round makes it difficult for performers to have a space where they can prepare and from which they can enter or exit. This is why I thought of lifting the seats: on the one hand, this allowed the stage to be located below the public in a “pit” or “arena” formation, thus enhancing the experience of the spectators, and on the other hand, this left more space for the backstage area beneath the seats of the audience.

My decision to use pillars to support the seats stems from Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Modern Architecture. As a matter of fact, he theorized among these points the importance of stilts as a means of raising the height of a building in order to gain more space below and use it for other purposes. In the case of Villa Savoye, on which he applied all five principles, the first floor is thus supported by stilts, which frees up space for car traffic.

Le Corbusier wasn’t the first one to beget this idea. From the traditional Khmer houses in Cambodia, which were raised above the ground to protect rural farmers from floods and to provide shelter for livestock underneath, to the 19th-century “cabanes tchanquées” of the Arcachon Bay, which were used by local fishermen as shelters while farming oysters, many constructions had used this technique before to optimize the available space. Therefore, inquiring into the relationship between elevated buildings and the space below them enabled me to evaluate the technical feasibility of such an approach for the theater I was designing.

The two other questions that occurred to me are linked to the theater’s organization. On the one hand, especially as a result of my decision to raise the height of the seats, accessibility became a fundamental problem. While this issue might seem easy to solve at first glance, the theater’s small size made it difficult to integrate stairs and elevators conveniently within the building’s structure. In the end, instead of including stairways and lifts, I came up with the idea to only incorporate a circular ramp to ensure the audience’s access to the seats.

On the other hand, sound and light were also of great relevance, in particular if the theater is concerned with different types of performing arts such as plays, dance performances or concerts. Regarding the building’s acoustics, I drew inspiration from several concert halls in the world which are renowned for their sound quality, including Hans Scharoun’s Berliner Philharmonie, Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten’s Taipei Performing Arts Center. Regarding the building’s luminosity, whereas I had first thought of putting a glass dome on top of the theater to provide natural lighting during the day, I realized that performances at night, especially in an urban context, might be disturbed by light pollution, which is why I opted for a dark cover made of recycled cloth that could be unfolded inside the dome depending on the exterior conditions.

Last but not least, I focused extensively on the theater’s sustainability. Indeed, in modernist and postmodernist architecture, most buildings are often constructed with materials such as reinforced concrete. This is a significant issue, since, according to a report by the Global Cement and Concrete Association published in 2021, the production of cement, which is a key ingredient in concrete, accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions. Consequently, in order to reduce the theater’s environmental impact, I decided to use wood as its main construction material. As a matter of fact, if it doesn’t originate from overexploited sources, wood can have many ecological benefits: renewable, abundant, easily accessible and trackable thanks to labels such as PEFC or FSC, it is also much less energy-consuming, since it is both light and dry, which avoids wasting water on the worksite. Moreover, wood displays excellent insulation properties and contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Regarding the theater’s water and electricity supply, I drew inspiration from the techniques Michael Reynolds used to build his “earthships”. While energy and heating can be provided through wind power and photovoltaic panels, water can be harvested from rain, condensation and snow and then filtered to make it clean and drinkable. However, I am aware that these aren’t perfect solutions: whereas the production of photovoltaic panels and wind turbines usually requires, amongst others, the use of rare earth and metals such as lithium, neodymium or dysprosium, their energy supply cannot be trusted to be efficient, since it depends on the amount of solar energy received or on the wind’s speed.

Of course, there remains a large gap between the building’s conception and its final realization. Therefore, I am still deepening my research and designing new solutions in order to reconcile the demands of jurisdiction, cost-effectiveness, sustainability and ethics.

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