The Montecasino Teatro
THE PERFECT MIX OF CONTEMPORARY AND TRADITIONAL DESIGN: THE TEATRO AT MONTECASINO
The contemporary design of the Teatro at Montecasino is a striking contrast to the quaint Tuscan-themed "village" that makes up the lifestyle extension. The distinction between the traditional Tuscan theme on the one hand, and contemporary design and modern functionality on the other, is key to the design of the 1 900-seater theatre. It is part of a village comprising restaurants, a conference centre and a 169 room hotel. To top it off, the extension features a magnificent Piazza with a huge musical fountain.
When it is completed in April 2007, the Teatro at the Montecasino entertainment and lifestyle complex will be the largest theatre in Africa and amongst the top eight lyric theatres worldwide. The first major show to be staged in June 2007 at the new theatre will be the adaptation of Walt Disney's Lion King.
The Teatro is an eight storey lyric theatre, which has required particular acoustic and design treatment. The strict principles that apply in theatre design - from lines of sight, to acoustic considerations - have made this a complex project to implement. Luckily, MDS Architecture and a multi-disciplinary team of over 20 specialists relished the challenge of ensuring that the design met the rigorous requirements of a modern theatre.
Sean Pearce, the partner at MDS Architecture heading up the project, says: "Theatre has a very romantic notion and it doesn't get any more romantic that this development. Standing in the foyer of the Teatro, guests will be able to enjoy a state-of-the-art theatre experience in a contemporary space, looking out onto a picturesque Tuscan village. We have focused on making the experience meaningful, creative, and cultural."
The concept was designed by London-based Arts Team, with MDS Architecture facilitating the translation of the concept into detailed design development, as well as service co-ordination, working drawings and general oversight of the building and process.
The theatre is divided into four major sections: a contemporary multi-level foyer, traditional auditorium, state-of-the-art stage and the essential back of house. The interrelationship between the various sections is what makes for efficient functioning and a unique theatre experience.
Minimalism in the foyer
Portals have become somewhat of a theme in the Teatro. The copper-clad entrance portal floating inside a glass curtain wall entices patrons into the dramatic contemporary foyer, which is bathed in natural light. From within the foyer, the glass wall serves as a picture frame for the beautiful village it overlooks, whilst people on the Piazza can view patrons mingling in the foyer of the Teatro.
Says Pearce: "The glass wall visually connects the inside of the theatre with its surroundings, whilst creating the illusion of space in the foyer, which is actually quite a narrow space in relation to the rest of the building."
The curved rear wall of the auditorium, painted red creates a strong backdrop that dominates the foyer, extending from the ground level all the way through to the skylight element in the roof. Externally, it extends beyond the skylight feature. As such, it holds all the spaces together, not only linking the high vertical spaces but also serving as a threshold into the auditorium.
The red wall makes a huge contribution to the modernism and minimalism of the space. The curved walls allow freedom of movement and guide patrons to the main entrances into the auditorium. As patrons are traversing the three levels of the theatre, the strong red wall is always visible.
Staircases and ramps have been designed to enhance this flow of movement through careful placement, as opposed to a compact set of floors encountered in many theatres of this size. They are visually prominent and provide integral views of the foyer spaces.
"The large volume of the foyer has been used to help facilitate the movement of people through various volumes to interact visually with each other and the outside spaces. From each level, patrons will visually interact with the Piazza through the glass curtain wall, as well as with patrons on other levels of the foyer. The sounds of the village outside add to the social aspect of the experience," says Pearce.
The result is an interactive area on three main levels. The lower stalls bar is on the entrance ground floor, the second level has a floating slab or bridge deck, and the upper level of the foyer recesses underneath the auditorium, housing the upper bar area which in turn overlooks the vast single space fronted by the glass wall. Glazed balustrades were used on the staircases and floating slab for uninterrupted views and to contribute to the contemporary feel of the foyer.
There are drinks areas and bars on the upper and lower levels that are "tucked" into the pivotal element of the foyer, the curved red wall. Whereas the red wall draws one into the Teatro, once inside, the glass curtain wall will serve as a connection back to the environment and the village outside. These elements, combined visually, add depth to the space.
A curved skylight runs around the dominant red wall, and seems to fly through the roof to link into the Tuscan environment. Covering a large area, it bathes the foyer in natural light during the day, with artificial lights illuminating the skylight from the outside at night. Additional lighting up the walls completes the contemporary look.
In contrast to the light filled and contemporary foyer, the interior of the auditorium is decorated in rich, warm and traditional tones. It is a stately, elaborate space, with the sheer volume creating an almost cavernous effect.
The focal point of the auditorium is the stage, with the large proscenium or stage opening serving as a portal between the stage and the seating area. Conceptually, this frame has been reciprocated by the glass wall in the foyer where the Tuscan village is seen as the stage.
The terraced seating around the perimeter of the auditorium, which houses the box seats, provide a vantage point from which to survey both the audience and the stage. The auditorium has two raked sets of seats, upper and lower stalls and circles. No seat is more than 30 metres from the stage. "The idea was to make every person in the audience feel as though they were close to the stage in a very intimate building," says Pearce.
The suspended ceiling, which cascades down in sync with the various levels of seating, resembles clouds of steel ribbon. It is cascades through the entire volume of the auditorium, hiding the workings of the theatre (lighting bridges, etc) as much as continuing the theme of contemporary design juxtaposed with the traditional treatment of the theatre.
Lighting in the auditorium has been kept to a minimum in the seating area. The auditorium features warm timber and weathered seats for a cosy feeling. The timber panelling on the walls echoes the undulating ceiling. Included primarily as acoustic elements, the panelling has been artistically enhanced in rich, dark colours to enhance the aged look.
The area that houses the stage sets and scenery is called the flytower, which serves as the vertical link between back of house and the stage in the auditorium. The height of the flytower is more than double the height of the stage opening, or proscenium allowing it to easily accommodate the various stage sets and fly bars.
The orchestra pit is flexible by design - it can be positioned lower than the seats when in use by the orchestra or the area can be raised to auditorium level to provide additional seating. A third option is to raise it to stage level to create a larger stage.
Due to the large volume of the auditorium, the air conditioning needed to be as quiet as possible. Extremely large ducts were installed to meet this requirement and the placement was very carefully designed to provide comfort, yet keep an acceptable volume level in the theatre.
The auditorium was designed with no sprinklers, as international experience has shown that water causes panic in an audience which is more dangerous than fire and smoke. As a result, a deluge system was installed on the proscenium, with a very sensitive smoke detection system and strong smoke extraction system housed in the auditorium and flytower roofs.
Exterior and context
The exterior of the theatre is masterfully hand painted to depict old buildings in Tuscany, matching the existing facilities in the development. Just as a building of stature forms a focal point in Tuscan villages, the Teatro is an integral focal point in the village. It is a stately and dominant building within the 'village', creating interest in the Piazza and drawing people towards the glass curtain wall, carefully inserted into the Tuscan vernacular.
The contemporary design is a deliberate intrusion into the style of the village, with an interesting mix of old and new, as is common with new buildings in areas with traditional architecture in Italy today.
The Teatro is an important part of the Montecasino development and forms a natural boundary to one side of a piazza. The bell tower visually balances the Piazza opposite the theatre and the conference venue is tucked in behind the restaurants. On axis with the theatre is the musical fountain, which will be a big drawcard.
"In my view, the Teatro will evoke the romance of an evening at the theatre. The lifestyle extension is made so much more impressive by its openness. I can visualise patrons walking through the quaint village streets under a moonlight sky, taking advantage of our beautiful climate," says Pearce. All the restaurants are outside and encourage interaction with the Piazza - more or less the size of a rugby field - and the musical fountain. Guests will be able to spill onto the open entertainment area, which offers a large landscaped open space next to the village.
Pearce concludes: "The project meant that we had to learn a lot of theatre jargon to fully understand the intricacies required to make it as functional as it is beautiful. It has been a great project, because we have been able to do that very well. It was Martin McCullum's idea to create a theatre that would be on a par with those found in the West End and I am thrilled to have been a part of realising this ambition."
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE TEATRO
· The Teatro is almost a third larger than the State Theatre in Pretoria
· Patrons will experience a double volume no matter which level they are on
· The theatre is 7 700m2 in size
· It will accommodate 1 900 patrons
Client: Southern Sun Group, Tsogo Sun
Development managers: Mirage Leisure and Developments
Project managers: Bovell Freeman Holley, DPA
Town planners: Rob Taylor & Associates, Karen Burger & Associates
Architects: The Arts Team(theatre concept), MDS Architecture in association with NSIKA and ADA
Interior designers: Wilson & Associates - hotel, Blacksmith - conference centre and theatre
Quantity surveyors: Brian Heineberg & Associates, LDM
Civil engineers: BKS
Structural engineers: LC Consulting, Ndodana & Associates
Electrical engineers: CKR
CCTV/security/information technology: Tsogo Sun
Mechanical engineers: RPP Consulting Engineers
Landscape architects: Landmark Studios
Artwork director: Kobus de Beer Productions
ABOUT MDS ARCHITECTURE
MDS Architecture is an award-winning practice that has designed buildings that attract the business, the people and the activity that lead to a sustained performance. With a proud reputation spanning 50 years, the practice is renowned for its skill in the sectors of hospitality and leisure, retail developments, offices, residential buildings and interiors. For more information on MDS Architecture, visit www.mdsarch.co.za