The home of the theatre in Heidelberg, which encompasses ﬁve(!) branches of performance (plays, concerts, musical theatre, children’s and youth theatre, and dance) was reopened in 2012 following renovation and expansion. The comprehensive restoration and enhancement was possible thanks to generous donations from local citizens. The challenge here was organizing the artistic and technical spaces required for work and theatre operations in line with today’s requirements while at the same time preserving the listed buildings. Slotted between two narrow corridor roads, in the middle of Heidelberg Old Town a new theatre has emerged with a stage house, auditorium, rehearsal room, spacious foyer and workshops.
Heidelberg’s historic theatre – the core of which is a late-classical building from 1853 – had to be closed due to substantial structural issues in 2006. The brief for the renovation and rebuilding was extremely complex: The new theatre had to fit into the tight-knit fabric of Heidelberg’s Old Town, and five historic structures, including the auditorium that had remained unchanged since 1923, had to be integrated into the new ensemble. In 2008 a restricted architectural planning competition was held, with the winner a design by Darmstadt architecture firm Waechter + Waechter Architekten.
The technological upgrading of the old listed, 350-seat auditorium to make it fit for modern theatre operations would have required substantial interventions in the main body of the building. For this reason, a new auditorium was created with more than 500 seats, positioned at a 90-degree angle to the existing hall. Both auditoriums make joint use of the new stage house, but only one is used at any one time depending on the performance; simultaneous use of both was never intended since this would exceed the maximum number of people permitted in the theatre for reasons of fire safety.
In the gaps and spaces between the renovated historical buildings, the architects have slotted in a new entrance area, a central, two-story foyer leading to both auditoriums, as well as new workshops and rehearsal rooms. The façades of the new building are subdivided by bright, vertical prefabricated elements of exposed concrete interspersed with glass elements that reach down to the ground. The transparent shell of the building means that rehearsals and the work in the workshops – the goings-on in the theatre before the performances – are visible to passers-by. The newly constructed sections are visually linked by the edge of a continuous »roof plate« eight metres high, which is penetrated by the volumes that form the fly tower and the new auditorium and rehearsal room.
Around 25 percent of the cost of the renovation and expansion was covered by citizen engagement – and one major donor in particular.