Culture revitalizing the city centre
On 28 April, Dresden’s major arts venue, the Kulturpalast, was reopened to the public following a three-year conversion, extension and interior refit. Once an icon of modernist architecture in East Germany, it can now resume its role as a cultural hub, housing a concert hall, the central library and the revue theatre Die Herkuleskeule. The refurbishment was applauded by the public, press and local politicians alike.
The internationally renowned gmp firm of architectects, run by Gerkan, Marg and Partners, submitted the winning design in the competition organized by the city of Dresden.
Built when East and West Germany were still separated by the Iron Curtain, the Kulturpalast was a venue for events of all kinds with capacity for 2400. To bring it up to date, city planners envisaged reducing the size of the concert hall and housing the municipal library in the building.
Gmp described the project as follows: “The conversion and refurbishment of the Kulturpalast Dresden involved no less than a rethink of the architectural concept of a ‘culture palace’, with a modified user profile but nevertheless based on the historic identity of the venue. While the exterior of the building – an outstanding example of the modern style in the GDR – was largely restored to its original design of 1969, the spatial organization of the interior was redefined. The design of the Palace takes account of its unique central position between the areas Altmarkt, Schloss, and Neumarkt, providing an all-round orientation with direct access from all three sides. The combination of culture, education, and entertainment, which will ensure that the venue is frequented by quite different user groups, has its spatial focal point in the large foyer facing south towards the Altmarkt, which will now be the main access point to all three main functions, and certainly enliven the area. The ‘Herkuleskeule’ revue theatre is located beneath the concert hall which, on the two upper floors, is snuggly surrounded by the rooms of the library. The interior design of these rooms features a simple, minimalist choice of materials, and furnishings that have been specially designed by gmp. The bright red color of the textile surfaces has been adopted from the original building and replicated as a leitmotif in all the venue’s main areas.
At the heart of the building, the concert hall – which has been designed to also accommodate other functions – has been re-developed in a style that is neither secondary to the existing style elements nor deliberately clashes with them, but that rather aims for a respectful and dynamic dialogue with the existing structure. Its architecture follows the ‘vineyard’ model, with terraced seating complementing the geometric hexagonal arrangement of the approved layout. Contrasting with the warm color of the wooden terraces, the white waves of the walls slowly move from the regular geometry of the layout to join up with the ceiling of the hall. The concert organ, with its 55 registers, is unique in Dresden, and particularly suited to performing the symphony repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries. In order to generate the desired combination of transparency and warmth of tone that supports the traditionally somewhat darker sound of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, the architects cooperated closely with the acoustic engineers from Peutz Acoustics and the orchestra.
This process has resulted in a concert hall that meets all concert requirements, taking factors into account such as reverberation time, acoustic space impression and, especially, unimpeded communication between the musicians themselves.
With this new Kulturpalast concept, Dresden has now – for the first time – been given not only a concert hall of international standing, but also an open venue of culture and knowledge, and a place of informal civic encounters and communication which continues the lively tradition of the building.”
A new start
At the hall’s inauguration, featuring speeches, a concert and a revue show, visitors and the press expressed unanimous approval of the new concert hall and the entire building. The Dresden Philharmonic performed three successive inaugural concerts, happy and highly concentrated in their new home.
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