BUILDING WITH A PRECIOUS HISTORY Firstly named “National Drama Center of the Nord Pas de Calais” then “Theater of the Northern Countries” and finally renamed “La Comédie De Bethune” by Agathe Alexis and Alain Barsacq who managed it from 1992, this theater distinguishes itself by its location in the heart of a territory marked by the crisis. Since the 1980s, culture has become a priority in the development of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais area; “La Comédie De Bethune” refl ected the will of the elected representatives of the department to be equipped with a National Drama center. Place of reference and artistic excellence where the theater can express itself in all its forms and reach all audiences, the building contributes strongly to the attractiveness of the area and represents the most emblematic cultural equipment of the city. Installed in a marquee with three hundred seats in 1992, the theater moved in 1993 in an old powder magazine, built by Vauban and refurbished into a «Studio Theater» which is still used nowadays. There was initially a movie theater called «The Palace» built in the 1930s on the present site of “La Comédie De Bethune”. The facade of the building maintained by girders, was all that was left when it was demolished in the 1990s. In 1994, the agency MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE won the competition for the construction of the theater. From the beginning, the project anticipated what has now become an extension: it already was in the form of two functional sections, the fi rst one containing most of the program, which was then carried out, the second one immediately unrealizable because it was positioned on the corner of the plot, involving the demolition of a house. From 2009, the corner house having been demolished, the extension of “La Comédie De Bethune” was able to be realized at the same time as the renovation of the existing theater. The agency MANUELLE GAUTRAND ARCHITECTURE, laureate of a new architectural competition for this extension, took advantage of this unique opportunity to improve and complete the global functioning of the theater and endow it with a rehearsal room allowing the presence of the artists on the site.
Today, the street corner house having been demolished, the extension was able to be realized after 16 months of work, partially in occupied site. The agency Manuelle Gautrand Architecture took this opportunity to put in the current building safety regulations (which have changed since 15 years).
The project reached two main goals: •Realize the extension, planned since 1994, including the rehearsal room •Put in the new safety regulations and renovate the theater (the administration, the hall…).
1/ THE EXTENSION: The extension is located on the corner of the plot, on three levels: a volume of high-rise located on the same level as the natural ground, and dedicated to the rehearsal room; then a level of offi ces, which links with the existing offi ce fl oor to the second fl oor of the building. The size of the rehearsal room allows relocating the hall on the corner of the November 11th street and the Avenue Victor Hugo, a provision that already existed during the competition in 1994. This position has several advantages: it allows to give a better visibility to the theater and to make the coffee bar more accessible. The coffee bar formerly located under the volume of the room’s fl oor, could not benefi t neither of a direct entrance from the Avenue Victor Hugo, nor a natural lighting. Now, the construction of the hall corner connects directly to the coffee, bringing a natural lighting and making it an animated and welcoming passageway. Above, the administration has a larger and more functional space thanks to the extending from the second floor of the existing theater.
2/ RESTRUCTURING OF THE EXISTING: Many spaces have also been changed within the existing building. Indeed, since the delivery of the original building fi fteen years ago, the safety regulations have evolved considerably. This project therefore involved the upgrading of the entire building. Several safety regulations were concerned, including the fi re safety regulations and the accessibility to all spaces of the theater for disabled people. The extension also required the construction of a staircase located on the right of the future hall and serving on the first fl oor the upper level of the rehearsal room of the CNAD (National Academy of the Dramatic Arts) and its additional premises, and the offi ces on the second floor. Finally, the building reached the most ambitious thermal and energy regulations.
3/ THE ROOM ABOVE THE PIT: The agency used all these work to complete this room, which had been left «raw» during the construction of the original building, into a second rehearsal room without grid, and smaller than the main rehearsal room, with an access facilitated by the raising of the staircase of the offices.
THE FACADES: A SUBTLE STAGING AROUND THE BLACK
The conception of the facades had to integrate the highly visible part of the initial project, this large rounded volume with the smooth corners, fully lacquered in purple. And it was not so easy to juxtapose a renewed style... Finally, it’s in black that the agency coated this extension: a deep and powerful color. To create a soft link with the initial volume, this black is implemented in the form of a kind of weaving metal panels, which are drawing large rhombuses, to remind the ones of the purple rounded shape. The rhombuses thus seem to go from one volume to another; they are declined in two different forms. Indeed, on the existing building the rhombuses are drawn using stencils on the concrete, and on the extension, the rhombuses are drawn in crossed metal cladding, mixing successively “black mat” and “glossy black” panels. The existing building is assembled on a diagonal frame which allows attaching those shaped panels. The waves of these panels, mat and glossy, take the light differently, depending on their degree of shine and their orientation to the light. Besides this extension of the huge rhombuses drawn on the existing purple facade, there is a delicate inspiration taken from the artist Pierre Soulages’ work. Finally this beautiful corner piece completes the project with a deep black and powerful volume: a way of asserting the theater’s anchor in the city of Bethune. And at the same time, this “dark” black is sometimes extremely light when the daylight faces the façade of the building, as it does in the paintings of Soulages ... The black becomes shiny, bright, and almost white. The building is refi ned and alleviated; it becomes almost crystalline, thus completing the round existing volume with a stricter and more geometric shape. The challenge of the project was also to improve the thermal and environmental performances of the restructuring and the extension. The existing building already had very good thermal performances, thanks to an effective insulation. For the extension these qualities are improved with a very thick outer insulation coated with the metal cladding. The heart of the project remains in the coherence of the initial tints: A mixture of dark shades, going from black to purple. Only the furniture of bars and desks, which meshes along the path, is coated with a very brilliant white, which illuminates these friendly places. The white of the furniture is also on the walls, creating bright and almost fl uorescent inserts in the black walls. The light of the ceiling is constituted with long fl uorescent tubes that remind the folds of the black cladding bleached by the daylight. One of the last choices in the draft was to think about progressively erasing the presence of the former facade of the movie theater. As if a generation was chasing away the previous one, the facade preserved and restored in the previous project, with its fi llers pastels and a little outdated, has been completely covered with the purple lacquer, as if the rounded hull had swallowed it.
And here is this theater, to which the agency became so much attached, ready for a new life!