As in the Thionville multimedia library, Montmorency courthouse, Bagneux swimming pool and other recent projects, in the design for the new Théodore Gouvy theatre, Dominique Coulon & associés imagine a place that mediates between the public institution, the city as community, and its inhabitants. In recent decades, the suburbs and smaller towns of France have been undergoing transformations resulting in a loss of local identity, and public architecture has been asked to respond to this crisis with restored value.
Dominique Coulons’s project provides not only hospitable places but spaces the community can feel proud of. This is the need acknowledged by the municipality of Freyming-Merlebach, a town of 13,000 people that is experiencing a significant drop in population as a result of growing unemployment in the region following the closing of the coal mines in the ’90s. The end of the wealth associated with employment in the coal industry led to social and economic problems which the institutions are attempting to fight with the weapon of culture.
As the Maison des Cultures Frontières, a cultural centre built in the city in 1984, has been transformed into a multimedia library, the town needed a new venue for music and the performing arts featuring advanced technologies and sufficient seating capacity. In 2011 the municipality held a competition for the construction of a theatre named after Théodore Gouvy, the famous 19th century French-German composer from Hombourg-Haut, an emblem of the frontier spirit attributed to this region on the border between France and Germany.
Dominique Coulon’s project won the competition, incorporating spaces for classical, contemporary and regional theatre, music, comedy, opera, dance and a specific programme of events for schools and youth.
The construction of the new cultural centre is part of a broader project for revitalisation of Place des Alliés, home to the town hall and a shopping centre, to which the theatre makes a perfect addition, forming a triangle of interest and interaction. Its prominent position in the city centre suggested construction of a building that is interesting when seen from all sides, built right in the middle of the site. This did not mean the project would be spectacular; the work is built on the same scale as the neighbourhood around it, dotted with single-family homes and buildings only a few floors high. Only the volume containing the stage towers above the low homes around it and is visible from a distance, giving the theatre symbolic value.
To the visitor approaching along Rue Gustave Charpentier, the building has a dynamic appearance, confirmed inside. The volume is broken down into three horizontal blocks, more or less evident on all sides. On the main façade, the entrance at the base of the building is set back from the others, while the top level has a glass wall overlooking the neighbourhood, a big “eye” opening up dialogue between the real world and the theatre. The uniformity of the white plaster on the outside of the concrete building may also be found inside, with its beige walls and carpeting. The foyer is broken down vertically with deliberately spectacular, theatrical oblique lines, inviting visitors to climb up to the first and second levels, where the entrances to the auditorium are located. Upon entering the big 700-seat hall, the change of register is immediately apparent: red, pink and orange underline the idea of performance and proudly declare the building’s avant-garde sets and technical features. What makes this theatre unique is the fact that the most distant spectator is only 20 metres from the front of the stage. “So that the audience won’t need opera glasses,” jokes Philippe Rouget, territorial engineer in the community of Freyming-Merlebach.
Design Team : Dominique Coulon & associés
Architects : Dominique Coulon, Olivier Nicollas
Project Architects assistants : Jean Scherer, David Romero-Uzeda, Ali Ozku, Fanny Liénart, Grégoire Stouck
Competition: Olivier Nicollas
Construction supervision : Olivier Nicollas
Client: Communauté de communes Freyming-Merlebach
Structural engineering: Batiserf
Mechanical Plumbing Engineer: Solares Bauen
Electrical Engineer: BET G. Jost
Cost control and monitoring: E3 Economie
HQE (high environmental quality) consultant: Solares Bauen
Acoustic Euro Sound Project
Scenographer: Changement à vue
Roads and networks: Lollier Ingénierie
Address: 1 Place des Alliés, 57800 Freyming-Merlebach / Google maps Location: 49.14422, 6.81724
Area : SHON 2850 sqm
Competition: June 2011
Schematic design: from April 2012 to July 2013
Construction work: from January 2015 to April 2017
Earthwork road works (COLAS), Structure (CARI-FAYAT), metal structure (ERTCM), water proofing (COUVREST), exterior steel joinery (SOCOMET), ventilated facades (DEOBAT), metal works (MULLER), interior wood joinery – furniture (JUNG), plastering (NESPOLA + WEREY STENGER), glued floors (SGR), tiles floors and walls (MULTI SERVICES), interior painting cleaning (DEBRA), elevators (ASCELEC), scaffolding (KAPP), electricity (ETA), heating ventilation (SCHAEFFER), plombing and drainage (LORRY), Lockmithing, machinery and scenic carpentry (CAIRE), scenic curtains and drapes (AZUR SCENIC), theater armchairs (DELAGRAVE), scenic lighting and audiovisual (SYSTEME SON)
Photographers: © Eugeni Pons, David Romero-Uzeda, Thibaut Muller