With its function and form changing based on its location and event, the Operalab is a bold statement in the cityscape and serves as an ad hoc embassy for the Polish National Opera’s cultural program. Designed by the collaborative team of Cezary Kępka, Bartłomiej Popiela, Małgorzata Piotrowska, and Jan Sukiennik, the pavilion can be installed in various configurations: vertically, horizontally, in intermediate settings as well as as stand-alone modules. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The pavilion's form follows its function - the cylindrical shape is rooted in ancient Roman amphitheaters. Such a space is ideally suited for theatrical and audio-visual performances. The central, circular void blends the building’s interior and exterior. Combined, they portray an archetypical form and are a tongue-in-cheek reference to both the Opera, as well as the pavilion’s primary sponsor. Most importantly, the structure was designed to provide a flexible and adaptable space for a wide variety of cultural activities, including performing arts, installations and exhibitions. It is also a venue for inspiring encounters and the exchange of ideas.
The pavilion’s distinguishing feature is its ability to adapt to accommodate various functions and needs. The building can change according to three different scenarios. When vertical, its height of 16 meters dominates its surroundings and is visible from multiple vantage points in the city. A relatively small footprint opens up the space in front. The ground floor is occupied by a central stage and seating for seventy. On the way to the top floor is the central void, which can be used as an observation point or an exterior stage opening to the square below. Finally, the top floor can accommodate an exhibition gallery or a cafe. Each level is reached by internal stairs as well as a platform elevator with accessibility for handicapped patrons.
The pavilion’s flexible dimensions allow it to be located in a wide range of urban spaces. The vertical arrangement’s relatively small footprint makes it ideal for narrow or small spaces. It is particularly well suited for city locations, where it can serve as the focal point of an urban axis. In our competition entry we chose to locate it in Warsaw’s Konstytucji Square, where the pavilion would be visible along Marszałkowska Street.
In this arrangement the pavilion can be used for larger performances in a cylindrical space with as many as 250 seats. The covered 230 sq. meter space has several possible configurations – a circular amphitheater with a central stage, a cross-shaped arrangement with four symmetrical seating stands and a traditional opera setup with the stage facing a semi-circular seating area with balconies. The lateral setup is suitable for larger spaces where a vertical landmark is unnecessary and when the performance requires a larger seating capacity. In our competition entry, we envisaged the horizontal arrangement in a large city park (such as Warsaw’s Agrykola, the banks of the Vistual River or Cracow’s Błonie park).
The pavilion can also be used as an exhibition space within Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki – the opera’s home. The structure’s modular corners can be arranged as a series of galleries, performance spaces and meeting rooms. The pavilion’s structure is based on widely available modular scaffolding used in outdoor theatrical productions. The cylindrical structure is based on 4.80m x 4.80m x 7.20m stage trussing units. Seating areas, scenes, stairs and all structural elements are independent structures based on widely used systems. The structure’s grillage has been clad in a white membrane. Its perforated surface reduces wind pressure and can be used as a display screen for multimedia performances.The feasibility of our competition entry’s proposal underwent initial consultations with a stage systems’ supplier. Given the pavilion’s proposed dimensions, wind pressure reducing perforated exterior and appropriate weighing down of its base, the structure would not need to be permanently affixed to the ground. Assembling or disassembling the structure would take one day.
As the pavilion would be build from leased stage system elements, it would minimize material wastage and used resources. This approach is more environmentally sound than the use of any single-use materials. The pavilion’s architecture corresponds to the Polish National Opera’s image as a world-class cultural institution with a proud tradition and a modern, sometimes avant-garde repertoire. The pavilion’s functions, interior and structure are not the result of direct inspirations by the National Opera’s building, but, rather, reflect the latest developments in theatrical and performance venue design. However, the rich architectural heritage of the Teatr Wielki building is an integral part of our project which can be projected onto the pavilion surface’s blank canvas.
The historical building’s characteristic elements, such as the four-horse chariot (quadriga), exterior columns, incrusted hardwood floors and terrazzo floorings, as well as (lunar ceiling?) can all be represented in a purpose-made animation which would be displayed on the pavilion’s white elevations. ‘Mapping’ the structure with multimedia projectors would highlight the pavilion’s form, and incorporate the animation into the performances. The project connects the institution’s rich history with the pavilion’s new form through the modern language of animation and sampling.
By clearly separating the pavilion’s form from the opera’s heritage, we have made the structure adaptable to any environment – placed in front of Teatr Wielki it would not be a reductive repetition of the larger and older building’s forms.