Theatre Maurice Novarina
The renovation of the Theatre Maurice Novarina in Thonon-les-Bains by the city commenced in 2012 and it was completed with the inauguration of the building on the 10th of January 2015. This project has mobilized nearly 150 people of various backgrounds to renovate the building and its equipment, which is considered a landmark for the city and its inhabitants.
At the end of 2012, the project was assigned to WIMM (principal architects) and Carine Bonnot (associated architect). The team was completed by engineering and technical knowledge given by : William Rodriguez for structure engineering (KEOPS), Michel Varlez for fluid and thermal? engineering (BRIERE), Guillaume Raoult for the economic development (VIES-AGES) and Benjamin Gremen for the site coordination and planning (SINEQUANON). Yves Grillet (Grisan) joined the team in the beginning of the construction of the project for assistance to the follow-up work.
As the studies works began, this new team raised the intrinsic question of how the city command (not sure what this means – do you mean how the city governance/chain of command?) operates in the functionality of the building today. Do you mean something like ‘how does the city integrate with the functional aspects of the building/how to integrate the city?
Interventions in the curtain wall interrogate the connections to the city but also the nature of the spaces that are given to see and live.
There is evidence that the strong architectural design conceived by Maurice Novarina suffered many changes during its multiple transformations. The initial project that wished to achieve a transparent building with a link to its users in the world of culture is today not able to create this interaction with the public.
"We are dealing with a damaged and old building that suffered a lot of refurbishments over the years that had gradually erased its original qualities. Its skin and programmatic development had to be rethought within its evolution and content that were neglected with the changes on cultural policies.
The different layers of work had been done with good intention, but the fragile thread that established the link between the building and its audience was broken. The interior promenade of the first floor, a beautiful spot to view the city and the lake, had become secondary. The library was removed from the building, leaving room for an exhibition space with a separate entry. The private entry made for this exhibition gallery was built as a void on the exterior grounds cutting the equipment unit and the connection to the city. The reception areas had gradually eroded the spaces under the stage, expanding but somehow losing their connection to the outside. These renovations paradoxically made the spaces darker, the users couldn’t relate to its function or experience its architecture volume." William Tenet, WIMM
Therefore, in parallel with the pure technical answer for the refurbishment and upgrading, the team questioned the use and programming of current areas of this cultural tool through its proposal. The purpose was not to " re-think " the Theatre but to transform it into a new device closely related with contemporary cultural practices. As well as being a cultural object, the re-design was also concerned with the theatre’s relationship with the public.
Consequently the approach was based on several questions:
- The transparency today: How can the relationship with the world of culture, originally established by the curtain wall, be more effective and therefore intensified?
- The operation and the quality of Theatre spaces today: How to re-discover the original clarity, vocational development and cultural facility for all users? How are today's links to the lake and the city now formed, in other words, its urban presences.
Quickly, three lines of work were established:
- Give the building its synthetic nature, unitary cultural place;
- Simplify its connection to the city;
- Restore a space of cultural mediation with the public.
A constant “back and forth” of solutions are set up to regain the building’s initial qualities and give rise to an exchange tool with the public. The technical dimension rekindles dialogue. Constructive methods have changed; the requirements also. The thermic filter that is the curtain wall is no longer acceptable; it is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter; despite its aesthetic qualities it is a real energy loss and thermal bridge.
Symbolic of these issues, the curtain wall "window" of the building has within it a tremendous and rare potential to amplify the theatrical interior spaces. These spaces will be places of encounter, communication and exchange around culture. Their perception both from the outside and the inside will be one of the key elements of the device.
"The Urban shelf of Jacques Tati is somehow resurrected. We worked in the reprogramming of these spaces and their reading. The ground floor comprises: a large reception compartment which distributes the various activities gathered today in the building, a ticket counter, a bar/restaurant and spaces for the presentation of cultural activity. The access to the ground floors was simplified; the exhibition gallery is thus completely integrated with the equipment. The promenade became a meeting/ press conference space and a projection space creating an internal screen of the city." Carine Bonnot
Studies began by simplifying the floor plans; the interior spaces are redesigned so as to regain their initial fluidity and restore the connection of the equipment to the city. The exterior access to the exhibition gallery is erased and the façades east and west are extended towards the exterior without changing the initial volume so it can incorporate spaces of circulation, of exchanges, of leisure and entertainment (ex. balcony with view of the lake)
The original marquee and stairs are removed so as to enhance the abstract dimension of the building. Only one access is proposed in the principal façade. This access works as a wide topography that extends and connects the volume to the mineral? square.
The new curtain glass wall creates an urban shelf that generates new activities. It challenges the cultural program as it proposes new events. The façades are reinforced by a visual filter, which consists of vertical lines that control thermal energy and provide comfort inside of the volume.
Inspired by Kinetic Art and Op Art experiences, the façades perception changes with movement.
"If positioned in front of the façade the vertical metal lines disappear and allow the viewer to perceive the activities, then when movements take place objects blur before becoming again visible when facing one of the sides of the hexagon. The actions change with movement as a cultural changing screen" William Tenet, WIMM.