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Slovak National Theatre - historical building

Hermann Helmer, Ferdinand Fellner

alias Városi Szinház
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)22.9.1886 | opening
Opened with the opera „Bank Bän" by Ferenc Erkel.
(detail)1911 | iron curtain
Creation of the iron curtain by Gustav Winter Steiner.
(detail)1934 | Modernization of the auditorium

(detail)1949 | renovation
(detail)1969 | refurbishment


(detail)Hermann Helmer |main architect
The phenomenon of the architects Fellner and Helmer would be difficult to capture with only one building. Their work consisted of continual, although somewhat stereotypical, work in terms of style. They placed a great emphasis on achieving the technical-operational needs of theatre buildings. They created a large number of theatres (mainly national theatres) in Central Europe - Austria, Croatia, Romania, the Czech Republic, etc.More theatres

Karol Engel |painter
(detail)Theodor Friedl |sculptor

Sculptor, author of original decoration in Prague State Opera.

More theatres


The institution of the Slovak National Theatre was founded in 1920, two years after WWI, split of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and creation of the independent state of the Czechs and the Slovaks.  In the first years of its existence it had its permanent stage only in Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak part of the country, from which it travelled to other parts of Slovakia. This theatre resided in the historical building of the former City Theatre in Bratislava. Until the gradual ceasing of their existence in the 1930s it were mostly Hungarian and German ensembles which played here. Despite the fact that right from the beginning all three ensembles felt a lack of room in the building, the problem was solved only provisorily, owing to a shortness of finances for a construction of a new specialised place. In 1930 the drama ensemble moved to the newly built Živnodom and started its activity as the Slovak National Theatre – Folk’s Theatre. After a short time many technical defects appeared which forced the ensemble to return to the historical building. In 1955 it left it for good when the building of the Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav Theatre was finished. The opera and ballet ensemble stayed in the historical building, despite the fact that it did not meet the capacity requirements and the equipment was outdated and functionless. The reconstruction in 1969-1972 dealt with some of the defects but the development of the performing art at that time had already different demands – more progressive spatial and technical possibilities, which, in this case, exceeded the potentiality of this building. More and more discussions were held regarding the need for a new building. The first steps were taken as early as 1956-1960, but it was clear that “there is even no competent organ of the Bratislava National Committee (the body of ground plan) prepared for this step.” [FISCHER, Ján: Myslíme aj na divadlá, in: Slovenské divadlo, roč. XXII., 1974, č.3, s. 379-382.] Even the public competition did not bring any results. In 1968 the state gained the status of a federation, which, inter alia, provoked the leading party to develop the net of country-wide cultural institutions. The strong impulse came also from the opinion poll in the Slovenské divadlo magazine, which  had been focusing on the situation in Slovak theatre from the beginning of the 1970s. At the end of the 1970s the Ministry of Culture named the preparatory conception committee for the new building of the Slovak National Theatre  (SND), which had to bring forward a suitable solution. There were numerous discussions held regarding the need of the new building, its eventual position, form and utilization of the old spaces of the SND. There was an idea to place the building on the Danube embankment, in many cases today’s actual place of the theatre was mentioned. As for the form of the theatre, it was decided it would include three ensembles (drama, ballet, opera) in one building, but there were also other, alternative suggestions in the discussion in the Slovenské divadlo magazine – to built independent buildings for each of the SND ensembles.

At the end of the 1970s there were several public as well as in-house contests announced regarding the positioning of the new building. Considered places were the both sides of the Danube embankment and the centre of the city. Eventually, the left bank of the river was selected, in the Martanovičova zone. It was the area of the former refinery of mineral oils called Apollo, which was left severely devastated after WWII. The cultural and social possibilities of the building were known as early as the beginning of the 1960s when the Slovak Architects Association ordered the design for localization of the future gathering square with the memorial of the V. I. Lenin (1962 - 1963), and the selected design drew attention on this place. Shortly after this, when there was the need to create the Press Department of the Pravda Daily, a new official public and anonymous urbanistic and architectonic competition was announced for this locality.  A new government, representative, cultural and public centre was to be built here, including the building for the theatre of small forms. This idea was also adopted in the decision about the localization of the SND building.

On 1 May 1979 a countrywide public anonymous competition was announced. On 25 February 1980 the 1st prize was given to the design by architects Peter Bauer, Martin Kusý and Pavol Paňák. The selected project became the basis for preparatory and project documentation of the new building. The construction works started in 1986. However, the long period of constructing and the situation after 1989 caused the decrease of the interest in the new building. Owing to the financial problems, the finishing works were many times delayed, in 2007 the government had intentions to sell the object. Nevertheless, this idea was rejected and the building was finished in 2008. The authors of the interior are Eduard Šutek and Alexandra Kusá.

The building of a national theatre and representative venue is characteristic mainly for the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when it was connected with the struggle for national liberty of small nations in Europe. The Slovaks too tried to build their national theatre (in the sixties in Liptovský Mikuláš). This effort, however, hit the lack of political, social and cultural predispositions. The Slovak performing art existed throughout the 19th century on an amateur level, it often reminded of folk theatre. There was not any systematic work (in Martin, the centre of dramatic art, at the end of the century there were performances given only a few times a year), there were not higher demands requested from theatre. Therefore, there did not exist any solid basis on which the idea of building a theatre could stay upon. Moreover, the representatives of the national revival movement chose other ways of self-representation, mostly literature and folk art. Theatre also played a role here, but not in such an extent like in the case of the Czech nation. For this reason the efforts of the representatives of the Slovak national movement focused on the construction of the multi-functional house of Matica Slovenská in Martin and later the National House. They had theatre halls, but they were equivalent to other rooms for other national institutions.

Later attempts to build the National Theatre took place in the 1920s. As this action was provoked only due to practical reasons (capacity limitations), the financial problems were dealt with only temporarily  (by the adaptation of the space in Živnodom). Even the last – successful attempt was based on purely practical reasons. The idea of the national theatre venue was not accentuated too much. The construction of the theatre was more of the interest of Bratislava than the country as a whole, where there had already existed or were being constructed new “Slovak” theatres. The public perception, however, changed after 1989, when financial problems started and there was a real danger that the building would be sold. At that time the idea of the “national” theatre built by the Slovaks reappeared.  Despite the lack of interest from the side of the citizens, the new building may be considered a delayed execution of the national theatre idea from one hundred years ago. 

The SND building was constructed as a theatre of drama and opera, with two halls and a studio, situated in two, relatively independent houses. The whole object is placed on the raised plateau.  From the outside, both houses have rectangular cube form above which there is the stage flyloft. On the western side there is the smaller building for the drama ensemble, on the eastern side there is the larger building of the opera. They are connected by the glass-covered metal construction of the representative staircase. On the embankment side the both cubes are cut into a semi-circular cutout of the entrance square. It creates a convex entrance facade which is from the second aboveground floor designed as a glass-covered wall, divided in its middle by the front wall of the staircase body. The rest of the facades are covered with the white Spiš travertine, with evenly placed large horizontal windows. Both of the halls are composed diagonally into both cubes, connected by the gathering spaces of the cloakrooms and the snack bar. The central element is the already mentioned representative staircase with the relief entitled Prameň (A Spring Well) by Peter Bauer, Dušan Buřil at its beginning. The representative areas are covered with the Spiš travertine too. The halls were designed in such a way to meet today’s demands of theatre operation. (“The back wall can be run down thanks to which the hall may be connected with the foyer before the performance or during intermissions. As the opposite part of the auditorium, the stage can be transformed into various forms, from the classical one to the arena.” [BAUER, Peter, KUSÝ Martin, PAŇÁK Pavol : Slovo autorov, in: Projekt, roč. 22, 1980, č.10, s.7-8.]) The auditoriums of both halls are of triangular cutout of a circle, with balconies in the back parts of the both. The third theatre space is the experimental stage – the Studio, situated on the meeting point of both houses. The actors’ dressing rooms and rooms for the staff are surrounded by the stage spaces of the opera and drama departments. The actors and the staff have their own entrance from the northern side, the management department has its own entrance too, with an independent core from the western side of the object. On the highest floors of both houses there are rehearsal rooms. Among the theatrical activity, the SND building may be used for other cultural and social events. The entrance foyers include exhibition spaces which can be used independently, such as autonomous exhibition spaces, the restaurant, the club and the snack bar. The semicircular arrangement of the front sides of both houses enabled the design of the square in front of the building, creating a continual connection between the interior and exterior. “(…) it creates as if an arms for various social activities for people in the exterior and the interior of the SND, it expects crowds, experience – it is in fact a stage for the audience in the exterior as well as from the foyers and the hall (…)”[BAUER, Peter, KUSÝ Martin, PAŇÁK Pavol : Slovo autorov, in: Projekt, roč. 22, 1980, č.10, s.7-8. ] To some extent, such design was more of a general character in the creation of theatrical spaces (the puppet theatre in Banská Bystrica, Bratislava), where the phenomenon of theatre was intended to be spread about the vicinity of the building itself.  The artistic element of the square is the sculpture called The Fountain by Alexander Bikovič, Iľja Skočko and Pavol Bauer, and the sculpture called A Water Cascade in the centre of the entrance staircase by Peter Roller.

The area of the unused parts of the estate, on which the building was built, enabled the architects, unlike in other cases, to design the surrounding area, with the theatre building as the dominant element of it. For the first time a theatre was given a role to become a forming element for the design of a whole quarter, and become “an architectonical and urbanistic pendant to the historical dominants of the city, which will symbolize (…) the socialist present and socialist life-style.” [7] When composing the object the architects took into consideration the connection of the building to two characteristic landmarks of the city – the Danube and Bratislava Castle. “These two moments laid the foundations of the building which was developed in its ground plan harmonically in the direction of the vertical axis / the axis no. I North-South/ and the horizontal axis / axis no. II East-West”. [ ŠPTÚ Bratislava, Ateliér 07, Novostavba SND Bratislava. Úvodný projekt 2. stavby. Textová časť. Dokumentácia výtvarného dotvorenia architektúry Novostavby SND, február 1985].


Literature, Sources:


[1] Redakcia: Novostavba Slovenského Národného divadla očami architektov, in: Arch, roč. 10, č.2, február 2005. s. 40-46.

[2] FAŠANG, Vladimír:Novostavba Slovenského národného divadla. Výsledky súťaže, in: Projekt, roč. 22, November 1980, č. 10, s. 5.

[3] ZMETÁK, Ernest: Na margo súťaže pre novostavbu SND, in: Literárny týždenník, roč. II.,  piatok 2. júna 1989, č. 22, s. 14.

[4] MAŤAŠÍK, Andrej: Posledné dejstvo budovania novostavby Slovenského národného divadla v Bratislave. Výber z archívnych materiálov  a spojovacie  texty, in: Slovenské divadlo. Revue dramatických umení, roč. 55, 2007, č.2, s. 245-327.

[5] MICHÁLEK, Juraj: Súťaž na Slovenské národné divadlo, alebo..., in: Projekt, roč. 32, 1990, č. 5-6, s. 72-73.

[6] MRLIAN, Rudolf:Nová budova SND - nové umelecké rozmýšľanie, in:  Slovenské divadlo, Revue dramatických umení, ročník 55, 2007, č.2, s. 151- 162.

[7]  HORNÁK, Gerhard, KUZMOVÁ Michaela (zostav.):Zborník súťažných návrhov na riešenie novostavby Slovenského národného divadla  v Bratislave, Bratislava 1983.

[8] BAUER Peter, KUSÝ, Martin, PAŇÁK Pavol: Novostavba SND v Bratislave. O úvodnom projekte druhej stavby, in: Projekt, roč. 28, č.3, 1986, s. 21- 31.  

[9] (Autor neuvedený): Projekt nového Slovenského  národného divadla, in: Projekt, roč. 26,  1984, č.9, s. 27-31.

[10] ŠTEIS, Rudolf: Významný podiel pre urbanizmus a architektúru I.časť, in: Projekt, roč. 22, 1980, č.10, s.7-8.  

[11] ŠTEIS, Rudolf: Významný podiel pre urbanizmus a architektúru II.časť, in: Projekt, roč. 23, 1981, č.1-2, s. 58-59.  

[12] BAUER Peter, KUSÝ Martin, PAŇÁK Pavol: Deväťsto metrov nového nábrežia, in: Projekt, roč. 24, 1982, č.10, s. 30-35.  

[13] GÜRTLER, Ivan: Realizácia, ktorá  určila  kritéria  dostavby, in: Projekt, 1996, č.4, s. 34-37.

[14] ZALČÍK, Peter:  Projekt nového Slovenského národného divadla, in: Projekt, roč. 26, 1984, č.9, s. 27-31.

[15] (Autor neuvedený): Súťaž na SND, rubrika súťaže, in: Projekt, roč. 21, 1979, č. 5, s. 50.

[16] FISCHER, Ján: Myslíme aj na divadlá, in: Slovenské divadlo, roč. XXII., 1974, č.3, s. 379-382.

[17] Redakcia: Potrebujeme nové divadelné budovy. Anketa, in:  Slovenské divadlo, roč. XXII., 1974, č. 3, s. 358-378.   

[18] MISTRÍK Miloš a kolektív: Slovenské divadlo v 20. storočí, Veda. Vydavateľstvo Slovenskej akadémie vied, Bratislava  1999, ISBN 80-224-0577-9, s. 80.

[19] (Autor neuvedený): O nové činoherné divadlo v Bratislave, in: Naše divadlo, ročník I., 14. októbra 1928, č. 5, s.14-15.

[20] (Autor neuvedený): Veľký sviatok Slovenského divadelníctva. K otvoreniu novej ľudovej scény v Bratislave, in: Naše divadlo, roč. II., 19. marca 1930, č. 17, s. 5-6.

[21] Zápasy o reprezentatívnu scénu národov strednej Európy. Zborník materiálov zo seminára,vydal Zväz slovenských dramatických umelcov v  Bratislave pre vnútornú potrebu, Bratislava 1984.

[22] BAUER, Peter, KUSÝ Martin, PAŇÁK Pavol : Slovo autorov, in: Projekt, roč. 22, 1980, č.10, s.7-8.  

[23] ŠPTÚ Bratislava, Ateliér 07, Novostavba SND Bratislava. Úvodný projekt 2. stavby. Textová časť. Dokumentácia výtvarného dotvorenia architektúry Novostavby SND, február 1985. 



Tags: Fellner and Helmer


Author: Viera Dlhánová

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