Theatre Tower on the Julier Pass
Client: Origen Theaterfestival
Architect: Giovanni Netzer, Walter Bieler
Location: Julierpass, Graubünden (CH)
The Origen Cultural Festival is known for its unusual venues. A medieval castle, a converted barn, temporary structures on mountain passes, artificial lakes and village squares are all settings for the performances of the music and dance theatre founded in Riom in 2005. Today, it is one of the largest cultural institutions in the canton of Grisons.
The theatre has now acquired a new location: a 30-metre-high gleaming red tower in the rocky landscape of the Julier Pass, 2,300 metres above sea level. The structure, which cost more than SFr 2 million and was financed largely by donations, was planned as a temporary object and will be dismantled in 2020. Since the site lies outside the permitted building area, the tower was allowed only on condition that it would be provisional. Giovanni Netzer, the founder and artistic director of the theatre, describes his building as a "built stage set, erected to house performances and subsequently to be removed". The theologian and theatrical scholar developed his idea for the playhouse on the basis of 80 models and sketches, and the engineer Walter Bieler implemented this vision within a few months.
From the outset, optimum acoustics were an important goal. During the construction phase, rehearsals with musicians and vocalists were held on site. Similarly, various locations for the erection of the theatre and the staging of performances for artists were explored, as well as views of on-stage activities. As a result, it was possible to react during the building process by removing certain seats for spectators and adding others. The use of timber as a natural material lends the interior a sense of warmth; at the same time, it meets the strict acoustic requirements purely on the basis of its surface quality. Repeated adjustments in individual realms – finally to the arches over the boxes – allow every member of the audience to enjoy an optimum sound experience.
All of the roughly 270 theatregoers are seated in boxes inserted on platforms between the ten corner towers, which are laid out to a star-shaped plan. These piers, consisting of 12 cm solid softwood slabs, form the load-bearing structure and at the same time contain access routes, sanitary spaces and other services. The entire timber construction was prefabricated at works, transported to the site by heavy-duty trucks and erected within five weeks. Since it is subject to extreme wind and weather conditions, the 490-tonne structure stands on a solid reinforced concrete foundation slab. In addition, the almost circular plan form reduces areas of the facade exposed to direct snow and wind loads.
The central feature of the theatre is the floating stage, which is ten metres in diameter. This is suspended at first floor level from the ceiling above and can be moved vertically up and down by means of chain hoists. Beneath this are the entrance area and foyer.
Performances are given in the theatre throughout the year with works that are meant thematically to reflect the various seasons and to integrate the rough mountain panorama in the stage scenery. The programme also takes account of the technical and acoustic attributes of the building, so that primarily dance and vocal performances are foreseen and less the spoken word.
On the roof of the tower is a viewing platform, which also allows visitors to enjoy the fascinating open setting around them in the form of the rugged landscape.