The Grand Theatre in Albi, France, aims to trigger the transformation of the urban texture as well as boost the city’s cultural influence: this building is conceived as an architectural symbol and a landmark on the outskirts of the historical centre.
“We have given priority to the presence of the Grand Theatre instead of the cinemas, in order to organize around it a network of public spaces and of cultural facilities. The Grand Theatre will be its centre.”
To highlight the role of the theatre and state the intent to improve Albi’s cultural life, the idea of an Alley of Culture came up: a collection of public spaces that follow one another, punctuating a walkway connecting the cathedral to the Rochegude public park. This path starts with a new public square at the level of the Sibille Boulevard, moving on to the Place du Théatre, and continuing down to the cinemas in front of the Athanor… Finally it opens up onto the urban park.
“That’s the idea of an urban walkway animated by the juxtaposition and interaction of several cultural buildings.”
“We chose to clearly identify the new buildings with existing notable places which give them an address in the city. Therefore, the preserved Athanor building is modified to become the entrance of the cinemas.”
It becomes the visible part of this iceberg, housing a large lobby space, with shops and a café at the square level. In the basement, we find all the screening rooms, which means the base of the theatre is entirely occupied by the cinematographic complex: this layout allows to free all the public space and to open it to the city.
The very simple geometry of the theatre is set onto the Général de Gaulle Avenue, in an attempt of urban continuity and proximity with the multimedia library, generating two triangular squares on both sides of the cultural alley. Those two public spaces, new in this urban infrastructure, are laid around the theatre: one opens up towards the historic centre while the other faces the neighborhood. It was key that the form would be a compact volume which allows the theatre to best be integrated with its urban surrounding.
“We also searched some functional, direct and immediate principles, especially regarding accessibility.”
The public and cargo entrances are on two different sides of the volume, making sure that orientation and functionality are as natural as possible. This way all four sides of the prism are open and equally important.
The opening on the side of the theatre is fully glazed , welcoming the lobbies, the galleries, the balconies and the auditorium. In fact, the main elevation acts as a large window framing the city, protected by a bent, see-through façade which conceals the galleries and the auditorium, but is cut at the ground floor to invite the public inside the main foyer.
From this transparent volume, the roof-terrace can be accessed along with a hanging garden and a restaurant. From this panoramic point, the view over the outline of Albi and its surrounding landscape is unobstructed.
The building is made of a concrete structure, finished with bricks. The same materials are used for the exterior as well as the interiors, for the flooring as well as the walls and ceiling. A consistent choice to create a unique, coherent and compact volume.
Sole exceptions, the glass volume containing the foyer and the façade, which appears as a bent grid made out of copper: because the grid itself is dense, while semi-transparent, it dresses the built volumes with a drape-like structure.
Other than recalling the stage curtain, the materials and the form of the façade give a vibrant look to the theatre thanks to its reflections and transparency… A metallic skin capable of protecting the functions inside without completely isolating them from the city outside: a kind of filter revealing the interior becomes a luminous lantern at night.