Floating Theatre

Location: Berlin, Germany
Status: Competition, Winning Entry
Date: 2015

The First Prize winning entry of the OISTAT Theatre Architecture Competition 2015. This ideas competition asked designers to conceive a floating theatre on the river Spree, at a location known as Holzmarkt. Like much of east Berlin, this area has supported a thriving independent culture for many years, although this too now faces commercial development pressure. The theatre is designed for performance of Judith Thompson’s The Crackwalker, a play with four principal actors, typically staged for small audiences, which focuses on people living on the margins of society. While climaxing in an event of unmitigated, tragic suffering, the play also reveals the innermost dreams, loves and affection of its subjects.

The theatre strives to abolish the spectators’ privileged position over the performer, avoiding easy, merely voyeuristic, sympathy that often accompanies works depicting the lives of the disadvantaged. A four-sided arena layout, reflecting the symmetry of the four protagonists, creates an intensely intimate experience. The stage is not separated and the performance can take place around the audience. Scenes which are not meant to be visible (on playwright’s explicit instruction) can be hidden from sight, yet take place in close proximity. Evening performances will have the feeling of a gathering around a campfire.

The location of the theatre on the water creates a sense of isolation and sacredness, but also of openness, and implicitly addresses all of Berlin into the performance. Simple, highly formal design using raw, low cost materials works in the spirit of Holzmarkt’s character, without fetishizing it, or producing architecture of spectacle.

Nicolas Koff