This project won the international competition held in Spring 2008.
The municipality of Verbania combines a set of small towns that lie along the north shore of Lake Maggiore in Piedmont, Italy. The site is the largest of a series of linked town squares and is used as a market-place and for car parking. Above the ‘open’ flank of the square is a major through road. The other three sides of the square are filled with run-of-the mill commercial and residential activity.
A theatre in such a town has a special role to play: socially as a ‘gel’ between the formal and the informal, between the self-consciousness of those who like to see and be seen and those who simply like ‘a bit of action’ – whether this is at the level of a glass of wine and some gossip or watching the girls (or boys) go by. Organically, it has a role to play as an urban mark.
In the centre of the existing square is an old house, the traditional headquarters of the local Trades Unions with a special role in the history of the town and forming a pivot of the geometry of the square. The new theatre complex responds to it, celebrates it functionally as a new gallery and organizationally grasps it as a ‘gate’ to the flow onto the site. Emerging from the key small street that leads from the lake, one’s eye lines up with this gate and one proceeds up onto a gentle terrace that covers the new car park.
This same terrace forms an open-air garden-theatre (with the flank of the house as its backdrop). The terrace adjoins the restaurant and bars of the theatre complex and expands them into an enhanced and enlivened rim of the square. The main theatre emerges out of the terrace and composes together with a smaller auditorium, a rehearsal block and bookshop.
Thus, the three main outcrops of building are treated very solidly and sculpturally, with the (lower) roof of the foyers, restaurant and bar acting as a much more casual and human-scale carpet: almost of the incidental scale of The market itself.
Materials are in-situ concrete with local terra cotta elements and steel section windows.
The Verbania Theatre must exist as a regular, day-to-day component of the town and not just an empty building when there is no special show. It exists as a piece of animated landscape observing the town and extending its grain. The key theatre elements (fly tower, auditorium, rehearsal block and small hall) are clearly bold and articulate. A thin sliver of deck lines the square and market place and provides opportunities to sit with a drink and exchange gossip or wave to a passer-by. The bookshop, restaurant and small auditorium are all part of the ‘towney’ northern corner that naturally develops out of the street behind.
The strong sculptural presence of the main theatre enclosures face towards the tougher and more mundane corner of the own and flank the busy through road. The roof that shelters the palm of the complex is carefully tailored and occasionally pierced for natural light. Artificial light from within articulates the building surfaces at night.
The London office CRAB STUDIO (Prof. Sir Peter ¬Cook, Gavin Robotham,
Prof. Salvador Perez Arroyo and Juan Barrado Gonzales) has won the international competition for the municipal theatre of the Piedmontese town of Verbania that lines the north bank of Lake Maggiore.
In approaching the task, CRAB realized that the notion of ‘theatre’ can be seen as a natural aspect of the culture of a town. Having no dividing line between the commentary upon life and ideas made by a playwright and the normal episodes and interplay of life itself. Making a place of theatre as a component of the town and thus mirroring the contrivance of a play.
The Verbania theatre is set in a public square and announces a theme, introduces the players and unfolds a series of interactions between the spaces within. It must exist as a regular, day-to-day component of the town and not just an empty building when there is no special show. It must be alive when the people in the town want to take a coffee, a drink, a meal or mum wants to sit with the kids in a sheltered place, when the book-buyer wanders through to see an exhibition or when the rehearsal is over and the players exhaustedly sit down to gossip.
The various parts of the theatre exist as a piece of animated landscape observing the town and extending its grain. The key theatre elements (fly tower, auditorium, rehearsal block and small hall) are bold and articulated and visible from a distance. Whereas the foothills leading up to them are draped win a deliberately gentler, more ‘rolling’ manner. The old trade union House (which has a strong cultural significance in Verbania) is re-invigorated as a public gallery. Behind it is informal sheltered terracing that can serve as a casual open space with performances or cinema shows taking place in front of the gallery House.
Alongside is a thin sliver of deck that lines the square and market place, a place to sit with a drink and exchange gossip or wave to a passer-by. The bar is a natural backdrop to this deck : with the traditional relationship of inner and outer meeting-place. The restaurant lies within as the most sheltered element of this group and from it you can look down through the terraces and decks into this small, contained landscape. The bookshop, restaurant and small small auditorium are all part of the ‘towney’ northern corner that naturally develops out of the streets behind.
The composition of all this works off from the main pathway that is announced by the gallery House and continues directly from the Via Chappia. This funnel and that of the Via Roma pull you through from the existing dynamic of the more touristic, part of the town that is alongside the lake.
The strong sculptural presence of the main theatre enclosures face towards the tougher and more mundane corner of the town and flank the busy through road.
The tallest element of the theatre faces an existing apartment block of similar height.
The roof that shelters the palm of the complex is carefully tailored and occasionally pierced so that washes of natural light will articulate key patches of space within and conversely, artificial light from within can articulate the building surfaces at night.
Several of the public routes are tailored to accentuate the aesthetic of flowing movement from level to level : wheelchair ramps and staircases are the product of a similar formal language.
The design enjoys the palette of the locality and develops the tradition of using terra cotta which will be horizontally profiled to accentuate the building’s form. The draped roof will be of timber construction. Parts of the building that are encountering heavy wear will make use of the local grey slate.
Location: Piedmont, Italy
Type: Municipal Theatre
Client: City Of Verbania
Budget: 15,000,000 Euro
Area: 3,500 m2
Status: Under Planning
Design: Peter Cook, Gavin Robotham, Dimitris Argiyros, Patricia Gonzales, Andrea Gonzalez Martinez, Jean-Baptiste Ruat
share this project: