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Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre - a mythopoetic space

19 of October '19
Technical data
Name: Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre
Investor: Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre
Location: , Gdansk, Wojciech Boguslawski Street.
Authors: Design Group A.T.I. (Temporary Entrepreneurial Association), architect Renato Rizzi - Pro. Tec.O. s.c.r.l.
Collaboration: Pro. Tec. O. s.c.r.l., architects Roberto Davanzo, Andrea Rossetto; Q-ARCH sp. z.o.o., architects Anna Socha, Robert Kuzianik, Wieslaw Socha, Karol Korycki
Construction: PPU MEDIAN, Andrzej Dabrowski


  • design
  • implementation



  • total

12 241 m²

General contractor: POL-AQUA, NDI S.A.
Cost: PLN 93.8 million

From the archives of A&B - the best Polish projects of the last decade

[A&B 01'2015 original material]

What makes a building a theater is architecture's property of drawing a line between the real and perceptible and the fictional and imaginary. Renato Rizzi's Gdansk Shakespeare Theater is a continuous story of drawing these boundaries. For the architecture establishes a real place for the theater, into which the contemplative space that belongs to the world of imagination is intentionally built.

The building was erected in a place where only old engravings, archaeological excavations and memory remain of the former theater. The Fencing School, built in the early seventeenth century, south of the city walls, served as this theater. The square-shaped hall resembled the Elizabethan Fortune Theatre in London. Now the entire area has been framed by a six-meter brick wall, from behind which the walls of the theater emerge with buttresses like the Gothic churches of Gdansk. This reference in form, scale, and material to the character of the medieval city, making the theater's spatial structure dependent on its distinctive features, makes the theater belong to the place. This spatial model of the walled city is not a repetition or continuation of the city, but rather a kind of theatrical imitation, seeming to belong only to an imagined, dark world. As in the black and white photograph - here the brick is not red either, but graphite. The boundaries of this world are marked by a wall. It is an element that distances the theater from the surrounding reality, differentiates the interior from the exterior, the real world from the unreal world of the theater, creating a transition from the everyday to a magical place where the worlds of the audience and the actor meet.

elewacje z ciemnej antracytowej cegły

Facades in dark anthracite brick

© Renato Rizzi

Gates in the north and south walls of the wall lead to the interior of the layout. One of them is the entrance to the first of a sequence of interior courtyards, staircases and passageways, reminiscent of the squares and alleys of a medieval city - that is, in fact, also the staging areas for mystery plays, passion plays, processions, processions, spaces of ritual and myth. The visitor here does not view reality from afar, but becomes part of it, begins to belong to it. Crowned with a stage tower, the theater's block grew on a cruciform plan, like a Gothic cathedral, set on an east-west axis, marks a special place in space. The copper roof lids, which are opened during the performance, also build a spatial dominant in time. This endowment of a thing with sacred qualities makes it, in the Heideggerian sense, a place. Space depends on it, is established by it, ceases to be universal and empty, has meaning and importance. It acquires its center. The building becomes a model of the world, of which the theater is the center.

przekrój podłużny

longitudinal cross-section

© Renato Rizzi

The entrance to the theater is a small alley, recessed as if in a moat, in the northwest corner of the layout. Inside the building, the light and bright wooden box of the auditorium seems to have been only briefly inserted into its white space. A void is left between the exterior and the theater's walls. The theater has been moved away from the sacred. However, the wooden box of the theater hall, like the other box of the exhibition hall suspended above the hall, has not been completely separated from the hall. The walls of the theater room do not reach the ceiling, and the exhibition hall has one of its walls open. Thus, the spaces are interconnected, interpenetrating and interacting with each other. The five-meter-high gates leading from the lobby to the hall are a real and symbolic gateway to the theater. They separate, but also incorporate the hall into the theater space. The theater fills the entire interior as it becomes a metaphorical theater space full of imaginations, memories.

konstrukcja sceny oraz części widowni umieszczonej na parterze pozwala na rozmaite modyfikacje

The design of the stage and the part of the auditorium located on the first floor allows various modifications; the stage can function in a standard layout and, among other things, "enter" deeper into the auditorium, which allows the audience to surround it from three sides; the auditorium on the first floor can be completely flat or raised, descending in steps towards the stage

© Renato Rizzi

The hall's 23×23 meter box is a reminiscence of the historic building. Renato Rizzi based all the dimensions of the interior on a module of 2.8 meters, just as Jacob van den Blocke did when he designed the School of Fencing. The courtyard is surrounded on three sides by three levels of galleries with three rows of platforms. Viewers can stand on the flat first floor, surrounding an overhanging platform on three sides. The backdrop of the standing stage in the courtyard is a sliding wall with a gallery and a door, following the pattern of curtains in Elizabethan theaters. The fullness of character is given to the space by a retractable roof, which constitutes the uniqueness of the Danzig theater. Just as the walled theater block is a model of the city, the theater courtyard vaulted by the sky, when the arms of the structure stand almost vertically, becomes a model of the world. After all, the conceptual representation of space could not lack a vertical axis penetrating into the ground and running towards the sky. The gap cuts the interior of the building from the basement, where the remnants of the historic building's foundations are to be collected, penetrates the theater hall and the stage - the center of the world. The roof completes the work, opening the space toward the sky. This reaching for archaic or mythopoetic space, as Toporov would call it, also relates to the Elizabethan theater model itself. It is not an illusionistic space supplied with perspective - a single point of confluence located on the stage of the baroque Italian theater. The stage becomes the center of the world during the performance, which gives meaning to the space. The entire space of the theater hall becomes a space of theatrical metaphor for the duration of the performance. Immersed in it, the audience are participants in the performance, not observers looking in from the outside.

pudło sali teatralnejprzekryto dwupołaciowym, otwieranym dachem

The box of the theater hall is covered with a two-bay opening roof with a structure of spatial steel trusses; when opened, the roof wings stand almost completely vertical; the roof trusses are supported by eight lifting cylinders; the steel roof structure rests on the reinforced concrete walls of the building; the dark facades of the building are formed by hand-formed anthracite bricks, arranged according to several different themes

© Renato Rizzi

On the one hand, the roof offers the chance to build an open space with the character of an Elizabethan theater, on the other hand, it allows the courtyard to be transformed into an enclosed theater hall. The use of stage sinks and floor audience platforms allows the creation of an Italian theater room with a boxed stage equipped with upper mechanization in the stage tower. The system also makes it possible to bring the audience into the box stage area and shape the hall into an en ronde theater central layout. The Italian-type stage expands the theater's staging possibilities, providing an opportunity to realize various creative intentions. In this audience-stage relationship, changing the directions of visibility of the viewing area, the need to exclude audience seats in the side galleries largely deprives the theater of its community character. The spatial layout of the interior of the hall of the Gdansk Elizabethan Theater should be considered primarily as a reconstruction of a historical structure with a specific gallery layout, suitable for the Shakespearean stage prioritized here.

jak w tradycyjnym elżbietańskim teatrze przestrzeń sceny okolona jest galeriami, w których jednak zamiast typowych rozkładanych foteli umieszczono drewniane siedziska z poduszkami; tłem stojącej na dziedzińcu sceny jest rozsuwana ściana z galerią i drzwiami, na wzór zascenia w teatrach elżbietańskich

As in a traditional Elizabethan theater, the stage space is surrounded by galleries, in which, however, instead of the typical folding armchairs, wooden seats with cushions have been placed; the background of the stage, standing in the courtyard, is a sliding wall with a gallery and a door, following the pattern of curtains in Elizabethan theaters

© Renato Rizzi

The performance is the culmination of a theatrical experience that begins, in the case of Rizzi's work, even outside the building itself, to then have a continuation inside it. The experience becomes a kind of ritual built by architecture and theater. It can also be said that a memory of the theater is built into the architecture that remains when the function of the theater passes. The theater, which is supposed to give meaning to the place, should therefore reach out to the imagery that the architecture builds, as it will arm it with memory.


- architect, research and teaching assistant professor at the Laboratory of Social and Service Architecture in the Institute of Architectural Design at the Faculty of Architecture, Cracow University of Technology, member of the Kozień Architekci team.

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