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Ypsilon Studio

alias Olympic Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1923 | project
Prominent representative of Czech Functionalism Jaromír Krejcar designed the building in several variants around 1923, a cinema was built in basement.
(detail)1926 | construction
When the construction was about to finish in 1926, the owner charged architect Paul Sydow with adjustments of cinema hall.
(detail)25.12.1927 | Opening

(detail)1996 | reconstruction

People

Jan Fišer |architect
Jaromír Krejcar |architect

History


I. cinema Olympic

 

The palace - more exactly a commercial and office building - Olympic in the Spálená Street was designed by architect Jaroslav Krejcar (1895–1949). In 1923, its owner Marie Rohlíková ordered designs for an extension and annex building to her old house.  The project was being changed and enlarged in several phases and in 1925, a large new structure with a ferro-concrete frame was conceived instead of the extension.  Krejcar's perspective drawing of the building from the spring of 1926 is considered by Rostislav Švácha as one of the most original expressions of the Czech architectural avant-garde; the building itself didn't achieve its poetic qualities, still it became one of the first Functionalistic buildings in the Czech Republic.  

 

In the original version of the project, Krejcar designed a two storey dancing hall in the basement, lit from above and with a revolving theatre stage.  In another variant of the design, a remarkable cinema hall appeared in the form of " a reform space with  amphitheatrical auditorium on a wedge-shaped plan" (Jiří Hilmera).

The client commissioned Paul Sydow with adaptation of the design for the cinema hall perhaps already at the beginning of the construction in 1926.  We don't know much about it; he had done several interior reconstructions and his main project in the town, the reconstruction of the house N. 737 with a theatre hall of the present day theatre in Dlouhá Street, was only ahead of him.

 

Hilmera characterized the change in the project as a direct conflict between modern and traditionalist conception of the space. "We are quite not sure whether Krejcar didn't violate the initial concept of unified space by adding balconies already in the course of designing. […] although Sydow left the elementary shape of the parterre on the wedge-shaped plan, he surrounded it with a pointless system of boxes and side seats at the places with extremely problematic sightlines.  The clean forms of the Krejcar's design were overridden by baroquizing lines of box and balcony parapets on a plan that resembled the shape of a violin soundboard."

 

Sydow's adaptation of a cinema hall was incorporated already into the final version of Krejcar's design from 1927 where curves of the balcony and boxes overlaid the original, much more moderate solution of the plan.   Architect Jan E. Koula expressed his critical opinion to Sydow's intervention in the periodical Stavba:  "This time Mr. Sydow used rubbish German expressionism, recently discarded by Berlin bigwigs.  About 50 seats were removed and 50 were completely devalued from the 500 seats, for which the cinema Olympic was intended thanks to used, artistically deeply felt and distorted forms.  The cloakroom of the cinema, not very large in itself, was made even smaller for decorative reasons so it became almost unusable.   Columns in the bar in the basement were strengthen by a massive wooden panelling so there would be more of "intimacy" and less of space.  This all and an array of other things, similarly incomprehensible, perhaps only for almost a million Crowns would be paid for a Kitsch, whereas valuable, functional and modern solution would cost perhaps only 300 000 Crowns!" The critique was concluded by a universal timeless statement:  "Although we have modern architecture here, we don't have modern and perhaps even culturally advanced builders yet.

 

After the modifications were carried out, the cinema for 450 spectators  was opened at the end of December of 1927 (on 25th, it is asserted somewhere else  as late as 27th). The original solution of the ground floor by the street was different that it is today; the entrance into the cinema led through the area of the present day café - "public buffet".  The structure of the palace was larger than it was approved before so the whole building received approbation of the building after a delay not before 1929 and with retrospective validity to year 1927.  

Krejcar had realised his visions about a modern stage later (1927) in the form of a reform cinema in the palace of the Union of Czechoslovak Private Clerks in Vinohrady (the present day Retro Club in the Francouzská Street).

A seminar of archive films (?) was located in the cinema Olympic after 1945 and during the following years, it was integrated into a net of cinemas for cultivated spectators.

 

A non-stop program was established in the cinema from the middle of the 1950s.  With a respect to operational requirements of such a non-typical service, it was necessary in 1956 to reconstruct the entrance into the cinema and its surrounding.  A shop on the left side of the passageway was abolished similarly as the neighbouring rooms between the shop and the staircase landing and in their location, a waiting room, office and reception came into existence.  The adaptation for the Czechoslovak State Film was designed by the Design Centre by the District Building Company in Prague 1.  The new space was put into operation in June of 1957.

 

In 1968 (some sources state already the year of 1958, but the latter date is more probable), the cinema was closed and it should have been used further on as a showroom for non-public projections and inner needs of the Central Rental Shop for Films.  A reconstruction of wiring was carried out for this goal and Josef Vlach from the company Propagace designed the necessary remodelling, carried out in the following year - rooms in the rear balcony were demolished, the floor lowered to the balcony level and a new projecting and audio booth was built up.  Projecting equipment was designed by architect  K. Fišer and ing. Smrž from the company Kinotechnika.

In 1975, remodelling of the interior of the passageway and entrances hall was carried out being designed by Josef Soukup through the mediation of Architectural Service.  The same area was remodelled again in 1984 (Architectural Service, ing. arch. Lexa).  According to R. Švácha, the remodelling in 1984–1985 created two passages into the vestibule in the ground floor instead of just one.

In the same year, conversion of a small theatre hall in the basement, being adapted for permanent operation of Studio Ypsilon, was finished.   

 

 

II.  Theatre in the small hall: Olympic Club – Ateliér – Ypsilon

 

On the original building plans, there is no theatre hall captured - its present day location below the front wing of the building was occupied by a "vine restaurant" (a wine shop with a cabaret) with a podium for music productions.  At the beginning of the 1960s, a theatre and music club started existing here.  The hall was converted for theatre use in 1968 to the design by arch. Fišer who designed the reconstruction in the 1990s as well, however, the verification of this information in the accessible documentation hasn't been successful.  It's also possible that the area was converted into a chamber hall with a raked auditorium as late as the beginning of the 1980s.

The Mlok Theatre (Youth About Culture) of Miloslav Šimek performed here; its opening performance took place in November of 1960.  Perhaps from 1962 and at least until 1966, the theatre club Olympic was here (that allegedly moved into puppet theatre Little Sun in the Children House in 1966).

 

The Theatre Ateliér found its place of operation in the hall from the beginning of the 1970s, about which no information is available to me; its popularity probably declined in the course of the 1970s and the hall rather served as a venue for several theatre companies than to it.  Within the umbrella organization State Theatre Studio (SDS), the troupe of the Ypsilon Studio was administratively adjoined in 1978 to the Theatre Ateliér; however, the SDS was dissolved already in 1980 and Ypsilon was incorporated into the Jiří Wolker Theatre for the following next ten years.

Originally a troupe from Liberec, a part of the puppet Naive theatre at its original venue from 1968, moved in 1978 - not entirely of their own will - to Prague.  It was giving guest performances here already for a long time at various small venues.  After its coming into Prague, it was necessary to reconstruct the promised hall in the Spálená Street soon - which was rather a usual method in this era for complicating life of theatre troupes that weren't convenient to the regime (theatres Semafor, Drama Club faced similar troubles and the Chamber Theatre was completely liquidated with the pretext of a never realized reconstruction of its venue). The Ypsilon Theatre performed in the Žižkovské Theatre for several years where it staged its first premiers in Prague, the older mis-en-scenes of Liberec that were more space demanding were staged at the Braník Theatre  and at other venues.    

 

Architects from the SIAL studio in Liberec cooperated with the Ypsilon Theatre  further on after its arrival to Prague.  From the end of the 1960s,  Karel Hubáček from SIAL worked on the mostly unrealized reconstruction design of the Naive Theatre in Liberec, which the Ypsilon Theatre was a part of; architects form SIAL participated on creation of the theatre propagation materials and  Hubáček's projects had a large influence on stage designer and important future theatre architect Miroslav Melena (1937–2008). According to sketchy information that were presented in discussions during the conference about SIAL in Liberec in 2011, Hubáček, Emil Přikryl a Jiří Suchomel also worked on remodelling design, unspecified in detail, of theatre halls, in which the Ypsilon Theatre performed after its resettlement to Prague.

The reconstruction of the hall in the Spálená Street was protracted to two and half years, no documentation at all has been preserved in the building archive and we know nothing specific about it, it was finished not until 1984. Since that time, the hall, although small but with the possibility of various spatial arrangements, became a permanent seat of the Ypsilon Theatre until the reconstruction of the former cinema was finished in 1996.

 

III. 1996: Theatre in the former cinema

 

We don't have any reports on operation in the former cinema Olympic in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's possible to assume that projections for restricted audience were taking place here at least until 1989.  After 1990, the cinema was probably abolished and subsequently a decision about conversion of the hall for theatre use was taken. The Ypsilon Theatre became independent in 1990 and it's logical that it wanted to reconstruct the hall in the same building where it performed for several years for its needs, to which the existing small stage wasn't sufficient enough for a long time.  

 

Director of the Ypsilon Theatre Jan Schmid commissioned M. Melena with designing the cinema conversion into the theatre in 1994.  For unknown reasons, his generous design for hall reconstruction in the Spálená Street was not accepted by Schnid.  A more modest conversion of the cinema hall into a theatre, preserving the original appearance of the auditorium for a major part, was designed by Jan Fišer with architectural office ARCHIKON.  This office designed large reconstruction not only of the Olympic palace, but of the whole areal of the Czech Insurance Company - also neighbouring Spálená 14, Purkyňova 2 and Vladislavova 17 apart of Olympic).  Naturally, the main task in the theatre was to build a sufficiently equipped stage with whole required background in confined spatial conditions.  The connection of both the spaces (studio and main hall) was being solved at the same time and in the designs, there was also a connection to a planned outdoor venue in the yard but that went awry by a necessary protection of archaeological discoveries - of an abolished Jewish cemetery.

 

According to R. Švácha, the ground floor of the building returned roughly to its original appearance during the reconstruction in 1994–1996 being affected by reconstructions in the 1970s and 1980s and the elevation was given back its characteristic glowing awning; unfortunately, a part of the reconstruction was the replacement of Krejcar's left yard wing with a new structure.

Reconstruction of the whole building including the theatre lasted for two years.  The Ypsilon Theatre initiated the operation in the newly reconstructed hall on 23rd April of 1996.  A small studio venue (Studio of the studio Ypsilon) has been operating until today in the small hall that used to be the main theatre venue until then.

 

Present state

The Olympic building is composed of three wings connected in a plan of letter U shape - two longer side wings, flanking a narrow yard with a passageway covered by glass roof, elapse into inside of the block from the edges of the street wings.  There is an entrance into the basement from the passageway on the left behind the café through a wide staircase.

There are cloakrooms and background in the first basement below the front section of the building and the upper part of the hall with a balcony in the rear section.  The front part of the second basement is occupied by a studio venue that was built up from the former wine bar, behind it, a stage of the theatre hall lies in the location of the former bar and finally, the auditorium of the theatre hall (former cinema).

 

The hall retains the main spatial layout of the Sydow's cinema hall and some original details (decoration of parapets) even after the reconstruction.  Boxes, originally divided by partitions, disappeared from the balcony and the space below it.  The layout of the hall was slightly asymmetric because of the plan determined by foundation walls; another row of boxes was added because of it by the right side of the ground floor and balcony ( from the view of the stage).  The space of the hall was given a more symmetric appearance during the reconstruction and the side area was used as a corridor with a cloak room.  New colour scheme is distinctive: the hall has bright blue walls, white ceiling and balcony parapet and red seats.  The capacity of the hall is circa 2 x 150 spectators; the solution of seats in plan is wedge-like reversed against the original one ( the front rows are wider that the rear ones).

The stage, equipped by a turntable apart of necessary fly lines, has the background only on lateral sides because of the confined space.

 

 

Sources and literature:

 

–  Úřad městské části Praha 1, archiv Odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 75/II

–  rukopisné poznámky arch. J. Fišera (za které mu děkuji)

 

–  J. E. ● [Jan Emil Koula], Pražská revue (Druhá série – III.), Stavba 6, 1927–1928, s. 108–109

–  Jiří Hilmera, Stavební historie pražských kinosálů: Část 2. Dvacátá léta, Iluminace 10, 1998, č. 2, s. 93–136, zde s. 123

–  RŠ [Rostislav Švácha], heslo čp. 75/II, in Růžena Baťková a kol., Umělecké památky Prahy: Nové Město a Vyšehrad, Praha 1998, s. 212–213

–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 106

– vj [Vladimír Just], Studio Ypsilon, in Eva Šormová (ed.), Česká divadla: Encyklopedie divadelních souborů, Praha 2000, s. 480–481

–  Jaroslav Čvančara – Miroslav Čvančara, Zaniklý svět stříbrných pláten: Po stopách pražských biografů, Praha 2011, s. 85–86

–  Josef Vomáčka – Marie Zdeňková (et al.), Miroslav Melena: Scénograf a architekt, Praha 2011

 

 

Tags: Functionalism, Interwar period, theatre hall

 

Author: Jiří Hilmera

Translator: Jan Purkert

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