With the Theatre Agora, UN Studio have completed one of the first buildings within West 8’s new central plan for Lelystad. The architects have designed a multi-coloured light crystal with a complexly folded exterior envelope that incorporates the fly tower.
The design of the theatre explores the integration of theatre arts and new media into sculptural form. The building’s envelope is composed of an overlapping multi-faceted surface that, because of perforations, creates a moiré or kaleidoscopic effect. Internally the vertical foyer and its grand staircase is designed as an element that carves through the center of the building’s volume, clearly delineating trajectories and orientation with the interconnecting theatres and congress halls.
The Theatre Agora is situated in the centre of the Dutch city of Lelystad, a post-war municipality north-east of Amsterdam, whose once lacklustre city centre is being redeveloped.
Lelystad’s new revitalised city hub, conceived by Adriaan Gauze of urban design firm West 8, has been designed to project an air of change, activity and enthusiasm, and the Municipality of Lelystad (Gemeente Lelystad) commissioned the Theatre Agora on the basis that it represented these new urban ideals.
The design for the new theatre in Lelystad is part of the Master plan for the city center of Lelystad, designed by West 8. The theatre plays an important role during the day as well as during the night in this area of the city. The clustering of cultural and social activities in this new quarter will give Lelystad an outspoken cultural face. In this context the design for the theatre forms an important orientation point with a forthright architectonical look. Walking from the central station the theatre-tower forms a striking accent in the diagonal view.
At night the volume illuminates, and is easily traceable from the different parking facilities. In daytime the shape of the theatre has a sculptural effect. The grand café, also open during the day, connects to the evening square. From the different lobbies of the entrance of the theatre a beautiful view of the Green Care is presented. The vertical foyer, which swings through the entire building, connects different theatre and congress halls on the different floors. The typology of the theatre has become more and more complex during the years.
UN Studio strived to bring the complexity of a multifunctional theatre back into a flexible, transparent and intelligent design. The clear and open organization of the design will serve as a cultural icon for Lelystad. UN Studio has worked on different projects where theatre art and new media were important aspects in the program. The interaction between different art disciplines should be integrated in the design process of these buildings. UN Studio’s expertise lies in the analytical approach of the design requirements.
The facade, which is made of smooth metal plates, profiled sheeting with standing seams and perforated plates, shifts in colour from red to orange to yellow.
The orange cladding extends to the entrance area, where the colour scheme changes to hot pink and white. The main staircase encloses a large vertical space leading to the two upper levels of the narrowing foyer, which is illuminated during the day by the generous roof glazing. The dynamic feel of the interior space is enhanced by numerous inclined planes. The 750 seats and the wall and ceiling surfaces of the large theatre space present themselves in a luminous red. The technical areas are integrated in such a way that they cannot be seen from the stalls or the dress circle.
In contrast to the main auditorium, the smaller theatre (with 250 seats) on the second floor has the feel of a studio. Immediately adjacent to it are three multi-functional spaces, so that smaller conventions can take place on the upper storey. Over the entrance of the theatre lies the artists’ foyer, where the actors can view their audience through an inclined glass facade before the performance begins.
The theatre’s administrative staff, however, had to sacrifice their view as a concession to the unified appearance of the Agora’s exterior facade: their windows have been clad from the outside in perforated plates for purposes of camouflage.
Construction & Materials:
Executive architects B+M from the Netherlands, collaborated on the construction of the 30,000m³ and 7,000m² building, which consists of two theatres, dressing rooms, a number of interlinked and separated foyers, a large vertical entrance foyer, a café and a restaurant, and a stage tower.
The outer envelope is made of flat steel panels, corrugated aluminium, and aluminium mesh painted orange and yellow, using materials provided by Hafkon (aluminium cladding) and Van Dool Geveltechniek (façades).
The 19m-high stage tower services both theatres, and rises up from the building giving it prominence in the cityscape. The largest theatre hall holds 753 seats, fully upholstered in tufted nylon to enhance the acoustics, and features a horseshoe-shaped seating balcony in the auditorium and an orchestra pit with a capacity of 60 musicians.
The stage of the main hall is 195m² and the backstage area 500m². It is regarded as unusual for a city of this size (population 72,000) to house such a large theatre – but it was thought necessary to attract international troupes and world-class acts to Lelystad.
The interior walls of the large theatre are red, lined with acoustic panelling of a concave / convex formation in various shapes and colours, which serves not only as a visual interest but was found by Dutch acoustics designers DMGR to also benefit the sound in the auditorium.
The smaller theatre hall, which is set at a maximum distance away from the main hall for acoustic reasons, seats 207 people, with an 81m² stage area and a 135m² backstage area. The small theatre also has an adjoining party area of 225m². The entrance foyer extends vertically over two levels with a view through the sloping glass window both out to the city and the sky.
The staircase connecting the floors features a wide handrail that descends ribbon-like down the flights of stairs, then wraps half way around the foyer on level one before extending up the wall to the ceiling, changing in colour from violet to crimson, cherry pink and white.
Considered by the designer as one of the primary highlights of the space, Van Berkel’s intention was to give theatre patrons the sensation of being connected to the architecture of the building as they grip the pink handrail.
Both the interior walls of the foyer and theatres and the external façade were created to give a kaleidoscopic impression – one of looking out and into an ever-changing world. As such, the building protrudes in various directions, with all façades having sharp angles and jutting planes, which are covered by steel plates and glass layered in shades of orange and yellow.
Hunter Douglas’ Luxalon ceilings and Wood tiles play a key role in the eye-catching interior of the new Agora Theatre in Lelystad, the Netherlands. Ben van Berkels’ UNStudio promised Lelystad a diamond and that is exactly how their theatre looks like.
“The party should start in the foyer,” says the architect. It is in this remarkable environment where a beautiful application of Hunter Douglas’ Luxalon ceilings is applied. The foyer is painted in sparkling Pink and is a kaleidoscopic experience. The horizontal and vertical lining of Luxalon combined with the Pink balustrade accentuates the desired effect. Red painted wood tiles are applied in the impressive facated Dark Red walls of the larger auditorium and take care for a futuristic effect.
For the theatre to be truly successful, great design must be supported by superior function. Toward that end, Luxalon ceilings and wood tiles play a key role. Luxalon’s open joins with additional acoustic pad take care for excellent acoustic control while maintaining the smooth, cohesive overall look. Wood tiles improve the quality of all performances by an optimal balance in sound proofing and sound reflection.
UNStudio’s new theatre is all about colour. The aluminium skin has different shades of Red, Orange and Yellow and is gleaming from afar. It is the visual effect that counts. “At Agora, theatrical drama and performance are not restricted to the stage and to the evening” says van Berkel. Agora was built to provide the small Dutch town Lelystad with new opportunities to prosper.
Lighting designers Arup of Amsterdam focused on the themes of transition, movement and metamorphosis in their lighting design. On the external walls, lights are built into the façade embalming the building in a warm glow at night time.
During the day, the triangular skylights allow natural light into the foyer. In the hour leading up to performances, the artificial lighting in the foyer is pale yellow, which changes shortly to an intense coloured light shortly before the act begins.
The Agora Theatre is an extremely colourful, determinedly upbeat place. The building is part of the masterplan for Lelystad by Adriaan Geuze, which aims to revitalize the pragmatic, sober town centre. The theatre responds to the ongoing mission of reviving and recovering the post-war Dutch new towns by focusing on the archetypal function of a theatre: that of creating a world of artifice and enchantment. Both inside and outside walls are faceted to reconstruct the kaleidoscopic experience of the world of the stage, where you can never be sure of what is real and what is not. In the Agora theatre drama and performance are not restricted to the stage and to the evening, but are extended to the urban experience and to daytime.
The typology of the theatre is fascinating in itself, but Ben van Berkel, who has a special interest in how buildings communicate with people, aims to exploit the performance element of the theatre and of architecture in general far beyond its conventional functioning. As he recently stated: “The product of architecture can at least partly be understood as an endless live performance. As the architectural project transforms, becomes abstracted, concentrated and expanded, becomes diverse and evermore scaleless, all of this happens in interaction with a massive, live audience. Today, more than ever, we feel that the specificity of architecture is not itself contained in any aspect of the object. The true nature of architecture is found in the interaction between the architect, the object and the public. The generative, proliferating, unfolding effect of the architectural project continues beyond its development in the design studio in its subsequent public use.” (Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, Design Models, Thames & Hudson, 2006).
The facetted outlines of the theatre have a long history in the work of UNStudio and Van Berkel & Bos Architectuurbureau before that. In this case, the envelope is generated in part by the necessity to place the two auditoriums as far apart from each other as possible for acoustic reasons. Thus, a larger and a smaller theatrical space, a stage tower, several interlinked and separate foyers, numerous dressing rooms, multifunctional rooms, a café and a restaurant are all brought together within one volume that protrudes dramatically in various directions. This facetted envelope also results in a more even silhouette; the raised technical block containing the stage machinery, which could otherwise have been a visual obstacle in the town, is now smoothly incorporated. All of the facades have sharp angles and jutting planes, which are covered by steel plates and glass, often layered, in shades of yellow and orange. These protrusions afford places where the spectacle of display is continued off-stage and the roles of performer and viewer may be reversed. The artists’s foyer, for instance, is above the entrance, enabling the artists to watch the audience approaching the theatre from a large, inclined window.
Inside, the colorfulness of the outside increases in intensity; a handrail executed as a snaking pink ribbon cascades down the main staircase, winds itself all around the void at the centre of the large, open foyer space on the first floor and then extends up the wall towards the roof, optically changing color all the while from violet, crimson and cherry to almost white.
The main theatre is all in red. Unusually for a town of this size, the stage is very big, enabling the staging of large, international productions. The intimate dimensions of the auditorium itself are emphasized by the horse-shoe shaped balcony and by the vibrant forms and shades of the acoustic paneling.
The theatre is the most recent culmination of the interest Ben van Berkel has often expressed in exploring attractiveness, as this quotation from a recent publication shows: “The aim of our architecture is to intensify the gaze, to inspire thoughts and images and thus make it attractive for people to stay longer and return to the places we make for them. Keeping it light and almost scientific is our policy; the ploys invented to intensify the gaze are directly related to the traditional ingredients of architecture: construction, light, circulation, and so on.” (Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, After Image, 2006). The architect considers the Agora Theatre one of the most challenging projects he has undertaken, resulting in unusual and highly creative inventions, such as the handrail.
Project name: Theatre Agora
Location: Agorabaan 12, 8224 JS Lelystad, Netherlands
Coordinates: 52.510952, 5.476456
Type: Theatre and Auditorium
Program: Theatre with two halls and a multifunctional space, restaurant and bar
Site Area: 2.925 m² and expedition area
Building area: 7000 m2
- Seats: Large theater hall: 725
- Small theater hall: 200
- Volume: 30.000m³
Project Year: 2005-2007
Status/phase: Construction phase/ realization January 2007
Cost: € 12,400,000
Completion Year: March 2007
Client / Owner / Developer: Municipality of Lelystad
Architects: UNStudio, Stadhouderskade 113, 1073 AX Amsterdam, Netherlands
Principal architects: Ben van Berkel and Gerard Loozekoot
- Ben van Berkel with Gerard Loozekoot, Jacques van Wijk and Job Mouwen, Holger Hoffmann, Khoi Tran, Christian Veddeler, Christian Bergmann, Sabine Habicht, Ramon Hernandez, Ron Roos, Rene Wysk, Claudia Dorner, Markus Berger, Markus Jacobi, Ken Okonkwo, Jorgen Grahl-Madsen
Executive architect: B+M, Den Haag
Project Manager: BBN Adviseurs
Theatre technique: Prinssen en Bus Raadgevende Ingenieurs, Uden
Acoustics/Fire strategy: DGMR, Arnhem
Installations: Valstar Simones, Apeldoorn
Lighting advise: Arup, Amsterdam
Contractor: Jorritsma Bouw, Almere
Electrical installations: Kempkens Brands, Veenendaal
Stage installations: Stakebrand, Heeze
Paintwork: Lansink, Lelystad
Engineering: Pieters Bouwtechniek, Almere Acoustics/Fire strategy: DGMR, Arnhem
Text Description: © Courtesy of UNStudio, worldarchitecturenews, designbuild-network
Images: © Christian Richters, Iwan Baan, flickr-cermivelli