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Ballet House, Düsseldorf

The subject of the competition was the construction of a new rehearsal building for the ballet of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in the former Rheinbahn depot in Düsseldorf-Bilk. 5 halls with adjoining rooms were to be built for use by the ballet and a ballet school.

Design concept architecture

The new ballet house of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein marks the beginning of a transformation of the industrial site “Am Steinberg” into an address where the special position of art in the city is emphasised. The site of the former tram depot is characterised by long halls lined up next to each other, with large-format glass gates at the front of a large triangular square. This square is to become a meeting place for all local artists.

The old track bed gives an idea of the generosity that continues in the halls. The layout of the depot, including the track bed with original paving stones, is protected as a historic monument and will therefore be preserved for the city and the site in the future.

To the north of the square, the designated building plot is set back from the road in the middle of an extensive and heterogeneous site. It is framed by a linear perimeter block of old buildings and stands opposite three smaller administrative buildings connected to the depot hall. The deeper you get into the property, the more small-scale the structures become. The urban development concept envisages visually extending the existing square to the north, thus connecting the new ballet house to the heart of the site that is to be reactivated. The square will be closed orthogonally and the new ballet house can serve as the backbone of the square to initiate and start the transformation of the site. The character of the new ballet house is decisively shaped by the presentation of the four large ballet halls. The Düsseldorf company, which sees itself as an ensemble of soloists, should be able to present itself in a differentiated and multi-layered way, which is why every single ballet hall is depicted. Gracefully highlighted, the ballet halls lie above the square and allow interested parties a partial view through their airy dress. The four rehearsal halls form individual rehearsal houses/cubes that are distinguished from each other by transparent joints. The joints are part of a lower base body that extends parallel to the construction field. This basic body holds the company together and functionally connects all the rehearsal houses/cubes. Below the rehearsal houses are all the administrative rooms and serving functions, and within the base body are all the communal movement and recreation zones. The first square-forming cube provides the site’s sweeping impetus through its urban connection. This dynamic is carried through urbanistically by means of a rotation of the three following cubes from front to back. The last cube represents a separate position within the transformation and location of the ballet halls, it contains two halls. Of these, Hall 1, which has a stage-like setting and a spectator stand, forms the functional endpoint of the building on the ground floor. The rehearsal hall 2, which is identical in construction, is located on the 1st floor, like all the other pure rehearsal halls above it.

Urban integration

The entrance to the new ballet house at Steinberg is located at the end of the extended forecourt between the first and second cube. The spacious entrance extends over three levels and provides a first insight into the extraordinary building. To the right is the ballet office, it could take on reception-like tasks. The funnel-shaped space leads into a spacious lobby, which initially houses inviting canteen facilities and a lounge. The latter is located in an even higher atrium than the entrance. With an accompanying staircase, the airspace visually and functionally connects the entire building vertically over a total of four levels. Past the staircase, the Wandelhalle leads along a wide corridor to the second highlight of the ground floor in screening room 1. It can seat up to 124 spectators. The lounge facilities can be extended into the garden in good weather. The company can relax on grass seating steps. Together with the atrium, the garden forms the communicative centre of the building, which is why mirrors are located at points in the outdoor space along the renovated and planted soundproof wall. The flat is also located at ground level to the garden. It is accessed by a staircase that can be used independently of the overall operation. Otherwise, the ground floor houses the administration, the management and its staff, as well as the ballet school, a meeting room and various technical rooms. Between the ground floor and the rehearsal halls on the ground floor there is a mezzanine level where the dancers’ changing rooms and showers are located within the identical cubes 1 and 3. In its centre is the narrowest cube, as it houses the smallest hall 5. The ballet masters, repetiteurs and teachers can be found there on the intermediate level. Opposite the changing rooms are the physiotherapy rooms and the sauna with its relaxation room, facing the quiet garden. The pianists can also be found there. Above the flat on the ground floor, on the mezzanine level, is the changing room for the female guest. The changing room for the male guest is located analogously above. It would be possible for both to generate small guest flats that could also be developed independently of the entire building. Four rehearsal rooms 2-5 are located on the first floor. This is the floor with the most generous warm-up and lounge area. It also offers differentiated retreat possibilities in the joints between the cubes. Introverted short-cuts are provided in three joints to allow actors and staff private and quick access or egress between dressing rooms and rehearsal halls. The fitting rooms and caretaker’s rooms as well as the ballet shoe store are located on this floor as a service function. Since hall 2 is to be supplied vertically with 5 m high decorative elements, there is a correspondingly high aisle from the freight lift there that ensures this special insertion opening. The other halls can be reached from Hall 2 via the reversible corner in the niche with horizontal elements of scale across the boulevard. From the warm-up and lounge boulevard, there are also various views into the large 5-metre-high rehearsal halls through large-format windows. Between and in front of the halls, niches and plateaus form everywhere, generating different qualities of stay. Another attractive retreat is on the roof. Following the stairs in the atrium leads to the roof terrace, which opens up as a patio towards the sky. The views of the neighbours are thus screened and the ensemble can withdraw and sunbathe in private. The façade supports the architectural concept and highlights the individual rehearsal houses. You will receive a high quality airy robe made of copper. The filigree expanded metal façade is curtained and allows partial transparency depending on the viewpoint. From the square, silhouettes can be made out depending on the illumination of the rooms. From the inside, when you step up to the façade, you can see right out. The further away you stand from the façade in the room, the more your gaze focuses on the interior. The façade also serves as sun protection and provides glare-free lighting in the rehearsal rooms. The load-bearing walls of the rehearsal houses are made of exposed concrete. The lower base body, which forms the joints and common areas, is haptically restrained and provides light to the communal spaces inside via generous glass façades. The new ballet house on the Steinberg will be a lively place where the art of ballet can be created that makes Düsseldorf an attractive location. Each soloist in the company can develop and retreat at will in the new ballet house and diversify the rehearsal day. The house is to become an independent urban cosmos with boulevards and small alleys.

PPP project Ballet House Ballett am Rhein, Düsseldorf: Planning, new construction, financing and long-term operation of a rehearsal house for the ballet of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein within the framework of a rental model with heritable building rights.

Competition participation, 2013/2014

Architecture: Eller + Eller Architekten, Düsseldorf/Berlin
Landscape architecture: urbane Gestalt, Johannes Böttger
General contractor: Köster GmbH, Mülheim

Renderings: bloom, Hamburg
Model: Kepplinger, Düsseldorf