It is a well established fact that theatre has had a long history in Sibiu. The first theatre performances in the city date back to the 16th century when itinerant groups would hold performances in a wooden barrack that was improvised in the Large Square. After that, towards the middle of the 18th century, the theatre was moved in a space near the Cisnădiei Gate, next to the former Cazarma 90. In 1788, Martin Hochmeister was the first to build a structure destined for the theatre in present-day Romania. However, starting with Martin Hochmeister’s theatre and up to the current venues in which theatre performances are held in Sibiu, none of the buildings was first and foremost conceived as structures mainly destined for the theatre. Martin Hochmeister’s theatre found its place in the Thick Tower which was part of the city’s fortification belt. In the 19th century, theatre performances were held even in the hall of the Împăratul Romanilor hotel, while the theatre building was undergoing facade renovations. In 1949, after it experienced its last devastating fire, the theatre in Sibiu was moved in the building it is today, a former cinema built during the Interwar period – Cinema Apollo. And the most recent performance venue in the city, Fabrica de Cultură, is located in a former industrial hall. Thus, the theatre in Sibiu is, for the first time in its history, in the process of creating a home that will fully meet the needs of a theatre. It is true that the new theatre is going to be a cultural center that can also host conferences or other types of cultural gatherings or events, but it will mainly serve as a theatre. For the first time in the history of Sibiu, the theatre building will not be the result of a more or less adequate process of reconversion, it will not be limited to an existing space, but it will be a brand-new project and it will probably be met with financial constraints only.

Not later than 2007 when Sibiu was European Capital of Culture, every year during FITS or, more recently, during the EU Summit, it became obvious that we need a modern space for theatre and conferences. However, the public debates – thus, the first concrete steps – for the project of the future theatre and conference center have only started in 2018 by introducing the concept of Therme Forum in the programme of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival.

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Using this year’s theme, THE ART OF GIVING, as a starting point, the Therme Forum will explore the ways in which the physical and virtual experience of theatergoers shape communities and influence the performing arts and the soundness/durability of our organizations. This unique event gathers architects, creators and professionals from the theatre world and it will continue the public debate that was started during Therme Forum in 2018 in order to prepare the project and build a new performance venue in Sibiu.

We talked to Elena Morariu who is responsible for the art programmes at Therme*:

How important is this event in the process of developing the concept of the future theatre/conference center in Sibiu?

Elena Morariu: Considering the fact that this event aims to reconfigure the public space (the new building will change the fabric of the city in a certain way), a public debate that takes into account and reflects the public opinion is essential from my perspective. Also, this event invites people from social and cultural fields, which would not have crossed paths otherwise, to discuss the notion of identity, the construction of identity and its manifestation from a cultural and national point of view.

Is the entire project of building a new theatre and the public debate surrounding this project a premiere of the last 30 years in Romania? How did Therme Group decide to get involved in this process?

Elena Morariu: Therme supports and promotes art internationally through events such as Therme Forum – a platform for the exact sciences as well as for the humanist sciences – that encourages critical thinking and the valuable exchange of ideas (a patronage for ideas, if you will), but also through hosting a series of bold projects, of magnitudes that surpass the conventional spaces dedicated for arts exhibitions. Thus, supporting a public debate in order to build this iconic cultural space for the city of Sibiu perfectly matches the philosophy of our brand, which is to make art accessible to a much broader audience.

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As a preamble to the debates that will take place on the 20th, 21st, 22nd of June in the Mirror Hall of the Democratic Forum of the Germans in Romania, three of the architects who will take part in this event have accepted our invitation to answer the following questions:

How can timelessness be achieved in architecture? Is there any way to ensure that the representative buildings we build nowadays will still be, at least, aesthetically appealing for future generations?

Nils Fischer (Zaha Hadid Architects): Timelessness, from a design perspective, can be translated to „maintaining relevance” – and that is probably one of the biggest challenges in designing a building, as we do not know its future users and those who will judge on its value in the future. It’s a gamble, and only time can tell. There are, however, a few principles that designers can follow to increase the chances of achieving „timelessness”:

Maximize relevance at the outset: If the building works very well at the time it is conceived, chances are high for it to maintain its relevance over time. The other way around is certain to fail.

Avoid compromise. The buildings that stand the test of time are clear, if not radical statements, and they stand out from the average. Some even gain in relevance through their prototypical character; if a project starts as „good average” or „nice”, it will not mature to become a milestone or and outstanding example for its time.

Avoid fashion. That’s too heavy reliance on contemporary trends. Fashion comes and goes, timeless design is built on statements that persist.

Build to last. Maturity in construction helps to preserve a building’s relevance to its target community. Being timeless also means being timelessly reliable.

Gary McCluskie (Principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects): Creating architecture that endures is an important goal.  But it is accompanied by other important  considerations. The aspiration for a cultural facility is ranked among the highest order of civic pride. This means a theatregoer’s transcendent experience in an auditorium can be reflected in the design of the building. The very public act of attending performance is at the core of the shared experience.  And if a theatre design can serve to enhance the arts by creating a welcoming presence that entices just one person to cross the threshold who otherwise may not, it is well on its way to becoming a beloved institution.

Jason Bruges (Jason Bruges Studio):Architecture is as susceptible to trends as any other industry so buildings can definitely go in and out of fashion. Most people would think this is true of the Barbican in London for example. That said, I do believe in timeless design. It can just be hard to achieve and even harder to pin down exactly what it is. I think ultimately, it comes down to quality and detail. By that I mean buildings that are born out of thorough research. Our most timeless buildings have a sincere connection to place because they were designed with the context and user in mind. They speak of the history and narratives in the local environment and connect people to place.

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What are the risks of having too much technology in a new building, considering the rate of technological innovation these days? Do buildings tend to become outdated faster, in our times?

Nils Fischer: Well, yes and no. Innovation cycles accelerate, but so does the adaptability of technology and its capability to work around existing conditions. If you look at home automation, the most successful startups are those that allow retrofitting existing structures. At the same time, making an entire design dependent on a single technology can be dangerous. That said, the building industry is very used to breaking down designs into different systems that can be independently designed, robustly procured and replaced – we are far from the level of integration that we see in consumer products, and maintainability and resilience are well established aspects of any good design. The risk in my view is more that buildings lose their relevance faster if they do not allow adapt to advancing technology – and there is a lot of scope for improvement, particular looking at the energy- and footprint of construction.

Gary McCluskie: There is certainly a seduction at play when considering the latest innovations in technology and this applies to theatre design as much as other building types. Yes, there is a compelling argument to be made for capitalizing on current advantages, especially when they are cost-effective, or even cost-saving. While we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. From a design perspective, this means incorporating an intuitive flexibility for the inevitable future shock of technological advancement. 

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Jason Bruges: Technology should always be in the background and never the main event. My artworks have a very high-tech palette, but I don’t want you to think about this when you experience the work. Digital Ornithology for example, is sculpturally quite bare and stripped back. The technology is fairly exposed and yet the content running through it provides a mask, so audiences are fully immersed in a murmuration of hundreds of birds. It’s the energy and exhilaration of that which comes across.

The same goes for the integration of technology within buildings and our urban spaces. It needs to be seamless and elegant.  People describe mobile phones as an extension of our bodies and technology in buildings should be the same; an extension of the space that feels like second nature. The most important thing is not to use technology for technology’s sake. We need to think carefully about the purpose and ask ourselves how it is contributing to our experience.

Technology is changing quickly but this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid it. The digital revolution is well underway, so we really have to embrace it. It’s just important to future proof our designs and use solutions that can be swapped out and updated. 

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Considering that the community is the one bearing the costs for building a new theatre and conference center in Sibiu, how can people get involved in this process?

Nils Fischer: I think Forums like the ones that are being organized in Sibiu last year and this year are a good way: Present relevant subjects to a broad audience without oversimplifying them, and allow for discussions – and listen to them. I am also a great believer in public presentations: Whilst at the end of the day an expert vote is important to ensure adequacy of the at times quite significant investments, having the authors of the design presenting their scheme in public can be a very powerful tool to generate public buy-in. Transporting an idea is as important as generating it, and Architects can be instrumental in this process –they are used to doing it by necessity, and most of them do it passionately.

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Gary McCluskie: Having an engaged public participating in the design process for cultural institutions such as theatres and libraries is a necessary and important foundation on which to build support for a project. Soliciting views can take many forms, from a simple email campaign to an interactive design charrette, where the public is encouraged to think like an architect. Many people will rise to the challenge. The input can add a layer of cultural context for consideration. And the process instills a sense of ownership in a project that will become an important cultural asset.

Jason Bruges: We often consult with local communities as part of our design process and it’s a really necessary and enriching part of our projects. There are often many ways people can get involved for example, developers might organise focus groups or questionnaires and we prefer to set up creative workshops. All these options are equally valid ways of understanding what a community wants and needs from a new building. Through involving people in the process, we have definitely seen it impact the outcome. The content for our artwork, Platform 5, at Sunderland train station was made in collaboration with people who responded to an ad in the local paper. Communities have a much greater attachment to projects that they have had the opportunity to develop a sense of ownership and pride around.

*Therme Bucharest is the most technologically advanced wellness, leisure and spa centre in Europe built on a greenfield site. Located in the northern area of the Romanian capital, it is the first facility of its kind globally to achieve LEED Platinum certification, confirming it as the world’s first fully sustainable thermal spa.Therme Bucharest hosts the widest variety of botanical plants and the biggest system of indoor waterslides in Romania, with a total length of 1,5 km. The highly energy-efficient building ensures the complex’s heating through thermal water exchange 328 days a year. It is also the home of Europe’s largest indoor palm tree plantation (1,500 units imported from 6 countries).

*Story published in the magazine Capital Cultural, special issue for FITS 2019*
Varianta în limba română poate fi găsită aici.