Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) grounds⎟ Renovation of the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) and its side buildings

The Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) was extensively renovated in three construction phases from 2004 to 2012 according to the plans by the Munich architectural firm Meier-Scupin & Partner. First of all, it was restored to a condition in which it could stage productions all year round, then the renovation took place parallel to the ongoing rehearsals and performances. Today, the Festspielhaus’ (Festival Theatre) new Große Saal (Great Hall) is once again a light-flooded, pillared hall with an open roof truss and offers a wide variety of uses.

The barracks flanking the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) each have a listed roof construction of Kroher trusses that save on materials. The western wing was renovated in two phases (2001-2004 and 2012-2016) to preserve as much of its building fabric as possible, and the eastern wing is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Renovation of the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre)

First construction phase

In the first construction phase (2004-2006, construction costs: 11.7 million euros), the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) was restored to a state in which it could stage productions all year round. First, the shell was prepared for future use on the ground and upper levels. Special emphasis was placed on expandable solutions for equipment and technology. Getting it ready for performances included providing the Große Saal (Great Hall) with an orchestra pit, side stages and gallery as well as the eastern skylight room on the ground level with two artists’ and two technicians’ rooms, the audience cloakrooms and toilets as well as the box office. Artists’ dressing rooms, storage areas under the Große Saal (Great Hall) and technical rooms were accommodated on the lower level.

Second construction phase

In the second construction phase (2008-2009, construction costs approx. 4.5 million euros), the renovation and extension of the interior of the building was completed in two phases in order to interfere as little as possible with rehearsals and performances in the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre). The first phase comprised the new construction of the ceilings above the ground floor of the side wings, the faithful reconstruction of the roofs above the annexes and the construction of an accessible entrance at the southwest staircase. Due to the poor condition of the building fabric, the ceilings above the north and south porticoes also had to be renovated on the underside. 

The second phase was dedicated to completing the interior. To get the most out of the theatre being able to stage productions, large parts of the construction work were carried out parallel to performances. In the main hall, the 8th hall windows in the side walls, which had been sealed during the reconstruction in the 1930s, were reopened. To make this possible, the roof construction of the side wings had to be restored to its original geometry. 

By 2009, the western skylight room had been restored. During the renovation, it was decided to leave all the paint residues and traces of the various phases of use on the walls. By preserving the plaster with murals by Nancy Spero, refurbishing original wooden fixtures on the walls and ceiling and adding modern elements, a wide variety of components were integrated. The room is now called the Nancy Spero Room after the American artist who left her stamp-printed depictions on its walls in 1998. Spero used a kind of collection for this, which she stocked with her own drawings as well as image quotations from women from all eras of human history. With the help of the photo-engraving technique, about 450 different motifs in various sizes were transferred onto polymer stamps. The centrepiece on the front wall of the hall is a poem by Bertolt Brecht from 1935, the ‘Ballade von der Judenhure Marie Sanders’ (Ballad of the Jewish Whore, Marie Sanders), whose text is thematically grouped around the image of a bound, exposed woman. The ensemble is a commentary on the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Originally, the murals extended over large parts of the building. However, as they were never intended to remain on site permanently, they were largely removed during the renovation work. 

Third construction phase

In the third construction phase (2009-2012, construction costs approx. 2.5 million euros), the outer shell of the building was restored in keeping with the requirements of a listed building. After a comprehensive restoration survey and documentation, the remaining plaster surfaces and natural stone parts could be precisely dated and decisions could be made about their preservation and restoration. The renovation of the two gable reliefs (Yin-Yang symbol) from the construction period took place on site in a specially manufactured formwork on the basis of a digital 3D measurement. Thus, the preserved original fabric could be protected, restored and integrated into the renewed and restored appearance of the building from the time of construction. 

Old splendour and the latest technology

Today, the Festspielhaus’ (Festival Theatre) new Große Saal (Great Hall) is once again a light-flooded, pillared hall with an open roof truss – a ‘stone tent’, as its builder Heinrich Tessenow called it. The light-coloured walls and roof, white windows and doors as well as the floors correspond to the historical material and colour concept. The building offers a wide variety of uses, among other things thanks to the restoration of the side stages and the openings to the skylight rooms. This also corresponds to the original idea of not providing a fixed separation in the classical sense between the audience and the stage. The direction of the performance, the stage position and the type of performance can be freely selected, the audience seating is set up as loose equipment in the hall as required and performance technology elements are integrated in the roof space. 

Renovation of the barracks

Western barracks

According to the original design, the western barracks were initially intended to be a pure office and administration building, but after a change in planning, artist residences were also integrated from 2012. The renovation of the roof and the extension of the ground and upper floors from 2001 to 2004 cost about 2.9 million euros. In the listed roof trusses made of Kroher trusses, care was taken to minimise any interference with the building fabric. The building envelope was also renovated close to the original. Preserved plaster surfaces were largely restored, the windows refurbished or reconstructed and supplemented on the inside with a second layer of glass to form box-type windows. 

From 2012 to 2016 (costs approx. 2.9 million euros), eight single and two double flats with bathrooms and a communal kitchen were built in the southern section of the attic. A lounge and working area adjoins the living area. A rehearsal studio was created in the northern section of the attic. Since September 2014, the central section of the ground floor houses the Hellerau Festspielhaus (Hellerau Festival Theatre) visitor centre. The most recent work was the connection of the southern entrance to the boarding houses on the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) forecourt, which is in keeping with the requirements of a listed building. 

Eastern barracks

The eastern barracks in particular had severed the connection between the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) and the surrounding Hellerau Garden City. To make the Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre) square accessible again from the east, the design by the architectural firm Heinle, Wischer und Partner envisages a large foyer on the ground level as an open passage into the garden city. In order to expose the view of the listed roof construction made of Kroher trusses as soon as one enters the building, all ceilings in the foyer are removed right up to the roof. The foyer is flanked by two large, two-storey rooms that complement Hellerau Festspielhaus (Hellerau Festival Theatre) with the rehearsal and studio stage necessary for its own production business. In addition, the future east wing of the building will house catering, artists’ residences, workshops, and studios. The renovation started in 2020 and is expected to be completed in 2023.