|Theatre Agora; Lelystad, Netherlands|
Standing outside of UNStudio’s Theatre Agora, a modest feeling of disorientation sank in – the orange, monolithic mass transformed before my eyes. The building behaves as a sparkling jewel, transforming with the slightest fraction of light under the azure of Lelystad, Netherlands.
The shape-shifting nature of Agora extends beyond arguments of form to explore UNStudio’s frame of contemporary narratives and affect. UNStudio has previous experience playing with the effects of saturated color and experimenting with new materials. Down the road from Theatre Agora, in Almere, is the Technicolor sensation of La Defense. Completed eight years earlier, La Defense uses an iridescent envelope to activate and contain architectural effects produced by the building. Approaching the office complex, it looks like any other office bulding. But once I glided through the oblique entry, the hidden jewel reveals itself: lustrous rainbowlike materiality begins to absorb the space. The interior-courtyard surfaces reflect onto each other and produce moments of infinite color; I am encapsulated into a saturated and prismatic space that constantly changes with movement.
Saturated Chroma: Theatre Agora & La Defense
As an object, Theatre Agora behaves like a sculpture; it invites visitors to walk around and experience the exterior variation of warm monochromatic shades that reverberate against a blue canvas of sky. The exterior surfaces create a moiré-patterned1 envelope by layering sheet metal of texture (corrugated, perforated, and solid) and color (yellow, orange, and red). The colored, material transitions are subtle; the angle of each surface determines the edge, donning Agora’s soft silhouette. The flashing detail is not articulated as an edge-line, like in Rojkind Arquitectos’s Nestle Chocolate Factory Museum.
Edge Lines: Nestle Chocolate Museum & House II
At first, there seems to be obvious correlations between Theatre Agora and the Nestle Museum: both are warm-colored, undulated, object-like buildings. I am interested in the brilliance of jewelry and the Nestle Museum lacks the depth ratio2 that Agora delivers. The elevated museum and its red, corrugated metal surfaces read as flat and bound by white outlines, like a Lichtenstein; a three-dimensional expression of two-dimensional space.3 Agora’s depth emanates from the shine of glass that catches glimmers of light and the opacity of the moiré-patterned panels. The contrast of the massing makes the delicacy of the glass wall more poignant. The glass wall appears to be pulled up from the ground plane leaving its chalk-outline traced on the site, confirming my previous suspicions of transformation.
The unfolded diagram of the façade’s geometry is literally represented through the materiality of the ground plane. This tracery is finely detailed via elongated drains, which operate as folding lines to the envelope. Additionally, the directionality of the pavers is congruent with the surface textures exhibited in the facade. The unfolded diagram resembles the graphic qualities of the Nestle Museum. However, UNStudio’s sensibility to erase the graphic-folding guides lends to the sophistication of the envelope and open-ended dialog of shape shifting, an ephemeral encounter that begins on the exterior.
On the envelope a crimped red ribbon wraps the building. The ribbon suggests the entry and requires me to walk under the monolithic mass above, transforming the threshold into a subterranean experience. I follow the ribbon, embarking into UNStudio’s wonderful world of chroma.
Continuing en route, the red ribbon from the exterior pulls me into the lobby. The ribbon then transforms into the core circulation and gradates color, a smooth magenta. The magenta ribbon splits to wrap and clad white stairs. UN Studio’s staircase for Gratz Music Hall comes to mind while ascending into the vertical foyer. At Gratz, the renderings of the staircase, saturated in red and clad in chrome, produces velocity between floorplates. But here at Agora, time slows down while I ascend the alabaster stairs. The walls of the stairs are perforated like the sheet metal mesh on the exterior, extending the landscape commentary of parts to whole. A clear correlation between the tiny stair perforations and the soft-white walls produces a blurry, oversized dot graphic. Overhead, the skylight consists of the same mullion as the angled glass wall previously evacuated upon entering; it produces shadows creating a fenestration which repeats the rhetoric of the envelope and complements the corrugated, white ceiling. The sun floods the core, the pink ribbon glows like neon, saturating every surface and transporting me to a candy-coated space.
The deployment of magenta and white can be traced back to the Holiday House, an installation that initiated an inherent evolution of UNStudio’s portfolio. This evolution began with a generic, white Monopoly-esque house, diagrammed as extruded planes which produced unpredictable perspectives from within,4 a strong resemblance to MOS’s Ordos housing project. The elongated extensions from this explosive process created dynamic lighting effects across the magenta interior and intensified the chroma. Holiday House is grounded, like Agora, but its beveled edges defined it as a different typological form. Both projects share UNStudio’s effective tactics in producing affects and imagery; Holiday House uses the immateriality of seasonal light and shadow. The abstract device of light is used to capture an essence, and experience, similar to Agora’s kaleidoscopic red walls.
Immersed in ruby red on the second level of the auditorium, the horseshoe balcony allows my body to feel the continuity of Agora’s circulatory ribbon as my eyes become fixed upon the walls. The back wall of the theater is smooth, but as the adjacent walls approach the stage, their surfaces dematerialized and compressed into complex geometries. The house lights further emphasize these undulated surfaces with chiaroscuro effects capturing the shadows. Some of the panels are striated like the corrugated metal of the exterior envelope. Leaving no detail unattended, the backs of the red velvet chairs are sculpted with this geometrical expressionism; they behave like stalagmites in this crystallized world and allure me to run my hand across their soft plush.
Similar to Germanic rococo churches, Agora can be described as a geode: an austere and tenacious exterior containing a dazzling display of sensation inside through reflective and faceted devices to produce theatrical effects. In this red kaleidoscope, the theatre production manifests beyond the stage. Theatre lighting activates the walls as a participant in the show. As UNStudio describes, “the product of architecture can at least partly be understood as an endless live performance. As the architectural project transforms, becomes abstracted, concentrated and expanded, becomes diverse and ever more scaleless, all of this happens in interaction with a massive, live audience…”
|An abstract representation of Rococo ornamentation|
And so, Agora’s yellow brick road, or pink candy ribbon, has led me to the magic of Oz. Like Oz, Agora’s enchantment lies behind the curtain through the affective theatrical devices of color and form. 5 UNStudio is consumed with the notion of imagery and effect. Constantly aspiring to move beyond Kansas and into the Technicolor dream, UNStudio states: “we question if and how we can replace the manipulative, one-dimensional image with something far more advanced and intangible: the ‘after image’, the one you take home with you, an inexhaustible, ever-renewing composite of perceptions, memories and thoughts.” 6
Theatre Agora produces architectural effects that speak to childhood sentimentality. The after image is more than just visual sensation; it is a palpable treat. Imaginably, it is the taste of Candyland. Twisting and turning my way through Theatre Agora, I encounter various moments of staged theatrics along my delectable journey: candy dots on stairs, marshmallows for walls, a taffy staircase, and a rock candy auditorium. As I exited the building, I understood the orange of the exterior cladding as the complement to the blue sky, a two-tone gummy worm. Perhaps this was not just an after image, but also, an after taste.
1“An interference pattern created, for example, when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moir%C3%A9_pattern
2“The depth of a stone measured from the table to the culet. It is expressed as a percentage of the stone’s diameter at the girdle.” http://www.diamondarticles.com/diamond-proportions.php
3A clear differentiation of dimensionality in Lichtenstein’s work can be see in House II, Nok! Nok! and Slam!
4Per UNStudio’s website: http://www.unstudio.com/nl/unstudio/projects/holiday-home
5The film industry originally utilized color to articulate scenes of fantasy and dream states, whereas today monochromatic colors are used to describe memory and reverie.
6UN Studio Monograph, p. 370