This Studio is about the performing arts, specifically the opera in the 21st century and its importance for our future cities and communities. Opera, with its elitist audiences and grand halls, is an art form in flux as public funding shrinks and HD broadcasts radically change the way many of us experience live performances. In a landmark piece of market research in the US and Canada, a representative sample was asked “What is Culture?”. The most popular response was food and drinks, closely followed by popular cultural forms such as film and music, local neighbor-hood or events with a vibrant community and/or social media dimension such as Gay Pride or Black History Month. The bottom of the list was Opera Houses, Concert Halls, and Theaters.
Traditional opera houses have long been challenged for their inaccessibility to certain publics, notably the young, the poor, the culturally diverse. They are usually built in the 18th or 19th century and are perceived to be irrelevant to many communities, which is in part caused by the choice of location and their architecture. The Opera House of the Future starts with the idea of bringing large and diverse performances to local communities by creating a de-mountable and adaptable/scalable performance space that can be deployed in different (semi-) open public spaces and existing buildings for say 2-3 months at a time and has a capacity of approximately 600 mountable seats on a stepped floor and 1000 standing room.
The architecture is aimed at avoiding the inaccessibility that existing opera houses signal. It is the job of architects to create a venue that is beautiful, exciting, inspiring to the young, the poor, the culturally diverse, sending signals of welcome and creativity. In this assignment, opera should not be interpreted as the traditional form of opera as we know it now. The word ‘opera’ literally means ‘works’ and the performance space that the students design should be functionally flexible to accommodate live performances of any sort (classical, world, pop, electro, rap, etc.), works which combine elements of live music, dance, theatre and design.
Ease of erection and disassembly are crucial. One week for each is the target. Lightweight and modular structures should be explored for this project as moving the structure highly contributes to its ecological footprint. Acoustic considerations traditionally result in heavy concrete performance spaces. We must explore how to use innovative audio and stage techniques to reach the same result. Environmental impact can be further reduced by re-usability of the selected materials at the end of the structure’s economic life. Energy efficiency and adaptability to different weather conditions would be an important plus. The overall cost of ownership, including manufacturing and oper-ating costs and duration of use should be considered in its design as well.
In summer 2024 Paris hosts will host the Olympic & Paralympic Games. A key aim of the organizers is to use the Games to unite the « Greater Paris « (the City of Paris and surrounding suburbs) and to improve the economy of the suburbs especially Seine Saint- Denis. Every host City for the modern Olympics is obliged to present a program of culture - known as a Cultural Olympiad - that includes ambitious new commissions and creations and events that reflect the values and culture of the host community. Cultural players such as the Théâtre du Châtelet, where Ruth Mackenzie, one of the studio’s teachers is the artistic director, have already started scoping large scale projects which could reflect the shared values of Seine Saint-Denis and Paris to their own citizens and to a global audience. There are already discussions about announcing a cultural partnership between the theatre and Seine Saint Denis to create ambitious projects together. The Yale project to design the Opera House of the Future will be a good example of such a project.
Both because of the vicinity of the village of the future Paris Olympics 2024 and its main stadium “Le Stade de France” and the fact that the banlieus (suburbs) are underserved in terms of cultural amenities, we have selected, in close cooperation with the mayor of Paris’ office, two locations in Saint Denis. The studio participants must select either of the Paris sites, described below, as the temporary structure’s initial location. The third location in New Haven should be used as a study site where the structure could be erected in the future.
The 3 locations are:
1. a traditional square in the center of Saint Denis: Place Victor Hugo/Place Jean Jaures in front of the famous Saint Denis Cathedral and adjacent to the now vacant former HQ of the communist journal l’Humanité, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, or
2. an existing 1960s parabolic structure within a landscape setting: the point of Île des Vannes, an island in the Seine, where sports facilities are located, inclusive of a large empty building, formerly a ‘Palais des Sports’ called ‘le Grande Nef de Île-des-Vannes’, a protected architectural monument designed by Lucien Belloni. The structure could either be placed inside or outside the existing building, or
3. an urban space in New Haven outside the Campus that the participants should consider as a possible loca-tion for the future situation of the temporary structure, that they will initially design for either of the above Paris locations.
The studio will be led jointly by:
- Francine Houben, a leading design architect of projects such as the libraries of New York City, Washington D.C. and Birmingham (integrated with the Repertory theater), and the world’s largest theatre performing arts center under one roof in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She is a founder of Mecanoo and previously taught a studio at YSOA.
- Ruth Mackenzie, currently the Artistic Director of the just recently re-opened Théâtre du Chatelet (the City of Paris’s opera house for the people) and advisor for the Paris Olympics. She previously organized the London Olympics arts programming, and was a.o. head of the Scottish Opera, Nottingham Theatre and the Holland Festival.
- Isaäc Kalisvaart, a former developer of large urban projects like De Rotterdam with Rem Koolhaas, Palais Quartier Frankfurt with Fuksas, Allée Provençale in Aix-en- Provence and Oosterdokseiland (ODE) in Amsterdam. As the 2013 Bass fellow of YSOA he led a studio on the former Navy Dockyard in central Amsterdam.
- George Knight, a New Haven based architect who has taught in the advanced studios since 2004.
The team will be completed with Erik Go, an architect and urban planner and former head of the design studio of Mr. Kalisvaart’s former company (Bouwfonds) MAB and an instructor in the Bass developer’s studio in 2013.