Théâtre des Variétés
- First Prize in public competition
- Exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2022
The project consists of the rehabilitation of the former Théâtre des Variétés, a listed building located in the centre of Brussels, and its conversion into an International Laboratory for Artistic and Civic Activities. Designed as a theatre and music-hall by modernist architect Victor Bourgeois in 1937, it had once been one of the most modern venues in Brussels during the golden age of the city’s show and entertainment culture, and converted in the 60s into a great Cinerama before finally becoming abandoned and in a state of ruin in the 80s.
Now Bruxelles Laïque, a private institution dedicated to the promotion of citizen activities, very present in the cultural and political scene of the city, envisions a new life for the theatre that fits into the institution’s innovative and ambitious social agenda. The project opens a new chapter in the story of this place with special attention to its future users and to the building’s historical qualities.
Saving a big volume of air. This project, developed together with the Belgian studio Ouest Architecture, has continuity with that of the Sala Beckett, also dealing with the recovery and re-use of an abandoned building in a state of ruin to turn it into a centre of cultural activities for its city. The former Thêatre des Variétés was very rooted in the memory of the inhabitants of the city as it formed part of its cultural life during the whole 20th Century. It had survived several different programs and occupations, some of them quite aggressive, such as the occupation of squatters who burnt it partially in the late 1980s. However, there were still some ‘ghosts’ of the former theatre that had survived and were kept among the walls of the abandoned building: the space of the former stage, its fly tower, and the raked seating levels for the public, amazingly generous in their dimensions, a really breath-taking place.
The brief of the competition required several performing salles and a space called the “Forum”, defined as a place for meeting and gathering, with a public condition and purpose to serve for anyone to enter and enjoy the building without necessarily taking part in the activities at the performing halls. When we first entered into the building in ruins for the competition and saw the space of the former stage, we thought that this was already the public space that was needed, that the Forum was already there. We immediately started to work on how to incorporate the program of the brief without losing the qualities of that found space, working to save the big void, that volume of air so unusual and valuable in this very dense part of the city. This was the beginning of the project Variétés.
To keep the gigantic dimensions of this central space, we decided to locate the big salle (for 1.000 people standing) above the entrance hall, becoming the roof of the building. At the same time, the small salle (for 450 people standing), was located under the raked seating levels of the Forum, becoming the floor of this space. These two actions are accompanied by transforming the former fly tower of the stage into a huge light well, bringing natural light right into the Forum, and by drawing a shortcut between the two opposite facades of the building, allowing visitors to cross through guided by natural light. This interior street and the Forum transform this space into a public one, a covered street and piazza, a place with the aura and dimensions of a public space for assemblies and discussions, an extension of the surrounding streets inside the building.
The former Variétés is now given back to Brussels. The public character of the common spaces makes the building once again become part of the activities of the city, a place with the duty of memory linking it to the past of the area but at the same time projecting it into the future of this city.
|Situation:||Rue de Malines 25, 1000, Brussels, Belgium|
|Project:||March 2020 – July 2022|
|Construction:||January 2023 – July 2025|
|Programme:||Competition for the renovation of the Variétés Théâtre in Brussels and its conversion into a Laboratoire of Expressions Culturelles et Citoyennes. The brief of the competition required two auditoriums – for audiences of 450 and 1000 standing people respectively – offices, dressing rooms, a café/restaurant and a forum open to the city|
|Architecture:||Flores & Prats + Ouest Architecture|
|Collaborators:||JMaría Rodríguez, Júlia Sorribes, Ana García, Antoine Trémège, Júlia Doz, Saray Bosch, Makoto Hayashi, Kahoru Higuchi, Jorge Galindo, Guillem Bosch, Roxane van Kregten, Raphaëlle Auguy, Joffrey About, Salomé De Vasconcelos, Samuel Laguarta, Lèa Binggeli, Floortje Van Sandick, Oscar Sangalli, Jorge Rodríguez, Iñigo Azpiazu, Kaisa Kristensen, Daria Baldovino, Vittoria Guglielmi, Gustavo Hernández.|
|Structure:||JZH & Partners|
|Budget and survey:||Bureau Bouwtechniek|
|Photographs (as-found state and models):||Adrià Goula|