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Publié par Daniele Abbado, Antonio Calbi, Silvia Milesi, Lorenzo Parmiggiani, Susi Davoli:



International seminar on relations between

architectural design of theaters and the performing arts

Reggio Emilia

Teatro Romolo Valli / Teatro Cavallerizza

23, 24 October 2004


Over the last decades quite a few theaters, for drama and opera, and concert halls have been constructed in Italy. Many others have been renovated, and new projects are in progress. In certain cases these are the most important public works in their cities since the postwar era. In others, the spaces are intended to build image, to represent the identity of a city or a nation. The seminar “Architecture & Theater” aims to make a contribution to the definition of the multiple questions at hand, and above all to reactivate dialogue among directors, set designers, choreographers, musicians and architects. An indispensable dialogue for the contemporary design of places for representation of the various forms, both traditional and innovative, of production and enjoyment of events connected with the theatrical and musical arts.

An a posteriori assessment of what has been done reveals different types of problem areas – involving staging technique, functional quality, architectural quality, etc. – which the Seminar in Reggio Emilia intends to address, to stimulate timely reflection and greater awareness of the complexity of the theme.Tracing back to the tradition of theater design in which architects were also set designers – and therefore capable of effectively designing stage space and managing its transformations over time – we can see that in the gradual separation between the role and expertise of the architect and those of the set designer a precise correspondence between container and content, which formed the basis for the theater typology, has been lost. In short, recent experiences point to the difficulties, or in some cases the disruption, of that total adhesion of architectural form, functional organization of stage space and acoustics that made the theater the device par excellence for the presentation of the performing arts. It is worth asking why there is such an evident separation between ‘design’ and ‘function’ precisely in a country with a great theatrical tradition, as is evident in the many historical theaters uniformly scattered across its territory. The case of Italy, in other words, is emblematic of the current difficulties between architecture and theater. It is possible to note that, in the cases examined, architecture almost never reflects the input generated by the experience of live performance, as presented and transformed over the last century. All too often it appears that architects are not willing, or able, to realize that even today the theater arts are produced through forms of knowledge that remain rooted in the forms of craftsmanship: it is necessary to reiterate the fact that the timing of theater work is based on artisan practices, even when it involves sophisticated technologies and artificial intelligence. The result of all this is a dual phenomenon: On the one hand, newly designed theaters often have functional shortcomings, starting with those of acoustics and visibility, but all too often also extending to difficulties of a structural order, more closely connected to the functioning of the theatrical machinery, one of the most complex of all architectural organisms. It can be observed that this is often the result of oversights or imprecision, or in some cases delays and uncertainties, on the part of public clients: just consider the fact that many new theaters in Italy have been built and opened decades after they were designed, at times with the impossibility of intervention during the course of the work to respond to the new needs that have emerged, both in terms of form and in terms of regulations and standards. On the other, projects for the restructuring or transformation of existing theaters are often plagued by problems of communication, or a total lack of it, among clients, architects and users (directors, actors, choreographers, set designers, composers, musicians and even spectators). Often, rather than projects of transformation of theater buildings to adapt to the evolution of the performing arts and to new theatrical forms, these are mere updates to comply with current safety regulations. This implies a lack of the necessary synergy between the architect and the artist, precluding any ongoing adjustment of the project to meet the changing needs of the contemporary performing arts. We should remember that the 20th-century theater has had to come to terms with a dramaturgy and an aesthetics whose research resulted, in some cases, in a rejection of the orthodox sites of theatrical activity inherited from the tradition. In parallel, the phenomenon was accentuated by a gradual loss of the architectural quality of the places set aside for theater. The shifting of performances outside the traditional theaters, into “other” spaces, forced theater to come to terms with “improper” spaces for the performing arts, but spaces with strong connotations (one emblematic case is that of spaces of industrial archaeology) temporarily, or continuously, transformed into places perceived as most suitable for a theater connected to its time. 


Theater and architecture have a common task, which they must carry out with the same ethical and methodological commitment: “to institute” the figure of the user, stimulating reflections, encouraging forms of behavior, facilitating expression of a possible imagery. 


The objective of the Seminar of Reggio Emilia is to reveal the complexity of such crucial themes and, wherever possible, to favor the possibility of dialogue based on new awareness. Complexity, confrontation, dialectics that can have a driving role in processes now underway in architectural design, but also in the performing arts and music. The encounter is structured in talks and contributions by protagonists of the world of design and the world of the performing arts, making use of the projection of images and videos of personalities in the fields discussed. 


Why Reggio Emilia

With this seminar Teatri di Reggio Emilia, always concerned with this theme, launches renewed reflection on the relationship between the city, architecture and theater space.

Such activities date back to 1982, with the conference “Antique theater, new technique”, at the Teatro Municipale Valli, followed in 1984 by a second conference “Historic theaters and new theaters”.


- Reggio Emilia boasts one of the most interesting theater systems in Italy, with the presence of three theaters – Valli, Ariosto, Cavallerizza – defining the perimeter of one of the city’s main squares. The “I Teatri” Foundation concentrates its efforts on the continuing work of restructuring and updating of its historic theater spaces. In the summer of 2004 a major technical project will be implemented in the Cavallerizza Theater, to provide it with a continuous framework for maximum possibility of transformation of stage space.



 Silvia Milesi




Saturday 23 October 2004


First session  : 10 am – 1 pm

The space of theater

 Greetings of the institutional representatives





Iain Mackintosh  (co-director of Theatre Projects Consultants, London)

 Making Space for Theatre

The concerns of architecture

Kenneth Frampton (architect, Columbia University, New York)

Jean Nouvel (architect, Paris)

The concerns of theater

Franco Ruffini (historian, University of Rome)

 Peter Brook (director, Paris)

The concerns of music

Roberto Favaro (musicologist, Academy of Architecture of Mendrisio)

Pierre Boulez (composer, Paris)


Second session  3 pm – 7 pm

The concerns of theater, the concerns of architecture

 Firsthand accounts, part one  

The concerns of culture


 Lorenzo Parmiggiani





 Related activities: during period of the Seminar it will be very important to be able to show the different architectural projects underway in Reggio Emilia: the Cavallerizza, ex Fonderie, ex Locatelli, including the project by Calatrava for the new station and urban redefinition.


Document by Daniele Abbado - Artistic director of I Teatri di Reggio Emilia


Antonio Calbi

Architecture & Theater

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