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Wielki Theatre (Grand Theatre)

Storia del teatroSupplementodati tecniciHistoric equipment

Eventi importanti

(dettaglio)1948 | architectural contest

(dettaglio)19.1.1967 | inauguration of the stage

Storia

            “The rapid urbanisation process that Łódź underwent in the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century significantly changed the image of the city. That image, however, grew extremely monotonous: tenement houses neighbouring ubiquitous factories, palaces rose proudly here and there; and on top of that the spires of a few churches could be spotted among hundreds of chimneys. The city missed suitably representative public buildings, such as museums or theatres. There were attempts to remedy this situation in the interwar period, but all were in vain: designs were drawn up, though most of them were not accomplished. After the Second World War, in view of the new reality it became crucial to ensure the city had appropriate cultural amenities, since a socialist worker was expected to take an active part in cultural activities in his spare time. In addition to these aspirations, new and reopened Łódź theatre companies suffered from difficult housing conditions, which prompted the Civic Centre to give priority to the task of building a new theatre edifice.

            The Building Committee of the Narodowy (National) Theatre in Łódź was established under the guidance of Leon Schiller in 1948. The members of the committee were Adam Ginsberg – the managing director of the Civic Centre, Cyprian Jaworski – the head of the Department of Spatial Design, Władysław Daszewski – the director of the Set Design Institute, and Edward Andrzejak – the chairman of the City National Council. In autumn 1948, a competition was opened at the initiative of the Committee with the aim not only of finding the most appropriate architectural form, but also of reshaping Dąbrowski Square, where the theatre was to be located, to resolve the problem of already existing and anticipated transport in the neighbourhood.  In any case, according to the terms of the competition, the building was to be exceptionally representative, making up a monumental landmark of Łódź. As a result, the designer was to ensure that the building is properly accented from various perspectives.  It was decided that the northern part of the square, at the southern end with Sterling Street and the northern end with Targowa Street (the latter was to be extended through the Fabryczny railway station) was the best site for the theatre. The designers were to draw up the architectural-urbanistic design for the junctions of these streets, as well as of the south-western corner of the square by Narutowicz Street: the existing old people’s home was to be demolished and replaced with a public utility building (housing a museum or offices). It was acceptable to locate the backstage area in an annex occupying the north-western corner of the square, where a greenbelt was to stretch along Jaracz Street, though the annex was expected to be compositionally and functionally united with the main building. The theatre building had to suit the eastern frontage of Dąbrowski Square,  most of which was occupied by the District Court, built between 1927 and 1932 according to the design of Józef Kaban (Korski) in half-modernist, classic forms; a similarly classic, timeless and universal form was also to distinguish the architecture of the designed building. The façade of the building was to be on Narutowicz Street, whereas the square in front of it was to ensure appropriate access and parking places, as well as a venue to organise party and workers’ manifestations.

            Basically, the theatre was to serve as a drama theatre, but the stage equipment and interiors were expected to be designed in a way enabling it to stage also music performances and operas. Alongside an auditorium for 1500 spectators, the theatre was to house a foyer, a smoking room, a buffet, cloakrooms, toilets etc, as well as technical rooms. The main entrance was planned to open onto Narutowicz Street; according to the terms of the competition, the design was also to include fire escape routes for the audience, and to enable the possibility of accomplishing the building in several stages. In this form, the edifice of the Narodowy Theatre would be the largest and the most modern institution of this kind, fully deserving its name today ‘the Grand Theatre’.

            Among the seventeen competition entries submitted by design offices from various cities like Warsaw, Katowice and Gdańsk, there was also one from Łódź architects: Stefan Jarosiński, Tadeusz Melchinkiewicz and Roman Szymborski. The competition jury, which consisted of Piotr Biegański (chairman), representatives of the Building Committee, a representative of the Ministry of Culture and Art, as well as architects under the guidance of Lech Niemojewski, faced an extremely difficult task of choosing the winner. The decision required several sittings and discussions, which took place in November and December 1948. The source of difficulties in evaluating the designs was first and foremost the wide range of works, which not only included the architectural aspects of the building itself, but also the urbanistic design of the surroundings.  At the very beginning of the proceedings, the members of the jury discovered that none of the competition entries fulfilled the requirement concerning the cubature of the building (50,000 m3).  As a result, they gave up this requirement on the grounds that it is impossible to achieve a monumental character of the building with such a small volume of the edifice.

            Eventually, on 16 December 1948, the jury decided that none of the designs deserved to receive the main award. Two equal second awards went to entry number 6 by Julian Duchowicz and Zygmunt Majerski from Katowice, and entry 17 by Jan Bogusławski and Bohdan Gniewiewski from Warsaw. The estimation of the awarded entries showed that the architectural-urbanistic issues had been resolved effectively, though not sensationally, which was required by the specific role of the Łódź theatre. Warsaw designers Zbigniew Ihnatowicz and Jerzy Romański received the third prize for entry 4, and Zbigniew Wacławek, also from Warsaw, was given the fourth award (entry14). Apart from that, the jury decided to buy three more designs, including the one by the design office from Łódź. The jury decided to invite four winning teams to enter a second, limited architectural competition with a view to choosing the execution design.

            Unexpectedly, Professor Lech Niemojewski came up with a proposal. As he pointed out, he had been dealing with the problem of theatre architecture for a long time and he suggested returning to the excellent, in his opinion, design of the City Theatre in Łódź drawn up by Czesław Przybylski in 1924. Therefore, a team should be established and allowed to enter the competition in order to rework and modernise Przybylski’s concept. Niemojewski’s proposal was approved, though the second competition was not opened due to protestations from the rewarded Katowice architects, who refused to introduce any changes into their designs. In these circumstances, the Central Office of Architectural and Building Design in Łódź was charged with the task of preparing the execution design. At their initiative, the works were continued by designers from Łódź: Józef Korski, Witold Korski and Roman Szymborski; functional solutions were created with the collaboration of artists, Leon Schiller and Erwin Axer among them. At the end of 1949, the new design of the theatre was approved by the Building Committee, and the following year in April by the central authorities. The building of the theatre was included in the Six-Year Plan as one of the crucial investments.

            According to Korskis’ design, the edifice was to be completed in simplified and geometrised classic forms. The front elevation was distinguished by a low, straight covered pier gallery, over which was a broad band of wall, covered with a figure-decorated frieze. In the top part there was a high, multi-storey column portico crowned with a cornice. Side elevations mostly copied the essential structure of the façade, though less pronounced: the gallery and the portico were omitted. The back part of the building consisted of two side annexes housing several workshops (set design, a carpenter’s, locksmith’s, tailor’s and others), rehearsal rooms and rooms for actors to work individually. The backstage area also included another annex in Jaracz Street by the north-eastern corner of Dąbrowski Square, adjoining the main building with a catwalk suspended over the western lane of the street. Over the stage rose a 46-metre high block, housing trusses to lower sets. The whole structure was to be covered with sandstone slabs in a golden hue. The interior was distinguished by a large representative hall, an auditorium for 1,300 spectators and a modern stage, which at that time was the largest in Poland, and one of the largest in Europe: 27 metres high and 20 metres deep (almost 40 metres deep including the backstage area). It was equipped with numerous trapdoors and a revolving stage 16 metres in diameter; the proscenium could additionally be enlarged by raising the orchestra pit to the level of the stage. The orchestra pit itself could house a full-size symphony orchestra, thus also enabling opera performances to be staged.

            The submitted design seems to have combined pre-war and post-war experiences of Józef Korski, an architect, who eagerly used the forms of simplified neoclassicism either in its half-modernist version (as it was in the case of the neighbouring building of the District Court) or in the version imposed by the construction made of reinforced concrete (the simultaneously erected St. Teresa church). However, without depreciating the original input of the designers, one cannot resist the impression that they took into consideration Niemojewski’s proposal and thus Przybylski ‘s unaccomplished concept was at the foundation of  the new design.  On 28 December 1950, the designers of the building received the Łódź Award for Fine Arts, and the verdict said that the submitted design is the greatest work of Fine Arts in the area of architecture in Łódź.

            The history of the accomplishment of the building turned out to be complicated. As early as in August 1949, the future building site was fenced off, building materials were being collected and sheds for workers were being erected. In spite of the reservations of the central authorities, first preparatory works soon started. Works proceeded quickly: at the beginning of 1950 foundations were laid, and as early as in September of that year the ceilings of the second floor were laid. In that period, the building works were continued 24 hours a day, due to a three-shift system, as a reporter of “Głos Robotniczy” proudly informed on 19 September 1950. However, in subsequent years the building works significantly slowed down, owing to the troubles of the centrally-planned economy on the one hand, and to the changes in the general concept of the theatre on the other. In August 1952, theatre director Kazimierz Dejmek suggested in “Dziennik Łódzki” that the function of the dramatic theatre should be dropped, and the building under construction should be transformed into an opera house; in his opinion, this opportunity was available at that stage of the works. The need to introduce appropriate changes into the technical documentation, problems with the changing main investor, as well as troubles with appointing builders considerably extended the construction works. And despite the fact that the Narodowy Thetare in Łódź made up an essential item of consecutive multi-year economic plans, the theatre was not inaugurated until 19 January 1967, the 22nd  anniversary of the liberation of Łódź, eighteen years after the building works started. “

An excerpt from Gryglewski P., Wróbel R., Ucińska A., Łódzkie budynki 1945–1970 [Łódź Buildings between 1945 and 1970],   Księży Młyn Dom Wydawniczy:  Łódź 2009, pp. 96–100.

 

Literature:

  1. 20 lat sceny operowej w Łodzi, Łódź : Teatr Wielki, [1974].
  2. Łódzka scena operowa, ed. Krystyna Juszyńska, Łódź: Akademia Muzyczna im. Grażyny i Kiejstuta Bacewiczów, 2005.
  3. Teatr Wielki w Łodzi , ed. Stanisław Dyzbardis, Łódź: Teatr Wielki, 1966. 

 

 

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