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Openluchttheater OLT Rivierenhof (Deurne – Antwerpen)

Music, Fantastic Architecture & Nature

Project Description

We do not only rent, but also create and make unique shelters on demand for cultural festivals (Festival of Flanders, Province of Antwerp) and famous brands who seek for an own image (Duvel Moortgat). Events can be temporary (1 weekend) or semi-temporary (yearly installation of 4 months). The OLT project is a good example: the existing architecture and landscape is of capital importance, also to the festival. 

OLT (“OpenLuchtTheater” or Open Air Theater) is a fantastic yearly summer festival, situated in a very special architectural historical modernistic setting dating  back to 1953. The open air theater is situated in the mid of a large park besides the city of Antwerp. The park dates back tothe 17th century, belonging to the Jesuits. It is now a public recreation park since 1923. The open-air theater was  built in 1953 by architect Jozef Schellekens from Turnhout.

The open-air theatre complex is designed during the so-called ‘second modernistic period’ of the architect. In the twenties of the 20th century, architect Schellekens adhered to the principles of early modernism. Around WWII at the contrary, he had been promoting regional (‘Heimat-‘) architecture. This reminds us of course to the period of  Nazi Germany, promoting the feeling of ‘Heimat’ (‘native homeland’) and regionalistic architecture. After the second worldwar, the architect adhered again to modernism. But even when we see this modernistic building built in 1953 at first glance, it reminds us immediately to the rithmic and stately colonnade-architecture of the famous Nazi-architect Albert Speer (especially the German Stadium). The existing architecture of the open-air theatre is somehow dubious and questionable, but has  important historical, aesthetic and artistic values.

The main question is: how to act or react as an architect today in such an emblematic architectural setting?

The inner courtyard forms the open-air ‘entrance’ or porch building before entering the amphitheatre area. It is now the zone where visitors of the summer festival can enjoy foods and  drinks during the pre- and after-party.

In 2010, the organisation of the OLT festival decided to cover this zone because of the typical Belgian rain showers.  As the summer festival took place twice a week during more than 2 months, a solution had to be organised. But the organisation wished a strong architectural concept, not ‘just’ a tent.

Together with the organisation, architect Amandus VanQuaille developed an architectural concept that left the existing building untouched and visible from either side, even accentuating it. At the same time, the membrane had to accentuate the very nice and lush nature of the park around. Together they decided to cover the courtyard partly (and not completely) to keep the important feeling of “open-air”. Undoubtedly this has its own specific advantages and disadvantages, but after all OLT is by name an ‘open-air-theatre’.

Secondly, the architecture of the open-air theatre by architect Schellekens is featured with very strong post-war modernistic and neoclassical geometrical forms (stripped classicism), referring to Speer and totalitarian ideology. The curious dichotomy between old classical features and new modernist concepts shows in fact the dichotomy of the architect himself.  The sweeping forms of membranes and ‘organic architecture’ to the contrary, are reminiscent for exactly the opposite: the free organic forms of membranes symbolise a post-war architectural movement in Germany for democracy, freedom and exactly acting against the rigid ‘stripped Neo-Classicism’ of the Nazi-period. We think of architect Hans Sharoun ( Berliner Philharmoniker) and Frei Otto as great examples of organic architecture, each in his own way (philosophical and technical).

Architect Amandus VanQuaille therefore, has proposed two major architectural key principles:

  •  not touching or interfering with the existing architecture. The existing architecture is a dubious but a precious architectural witness of that time. Changing, touching or hiding it, would be architectural murder. The membrane would be of ephemeral and temporal importance anyway, but nonetheless of great impact and importance to the building during about 10 years or more. The large organic form of the membrane starts from the roof (on lose pillars standing on the concrete structure) and flowing down to the opposite side towards the colonnade besides the river
  • an emblematic and strong organic form contrasting to the existing architecture, symbolising democratic values. The membrane is strongly curved, like a huge flower with a central petal (the central mast of 16 metres high), it’s leaves growing organically through the rigid colonnade towards the surrounding nature and park area. 

The eye allows itself to be swept along by the tentacles of the strong organic shape of the membrane structure, follows the sharp forms of the tentacles sticking out through the colonnade and come to a halt at the ‘muddy waters’ around the inner courtyard. The essence of this place are those waters after all, and not the buildings really. The name of this historical park is ‘Rivierenhof’ which means ‘Garden of Rivers’. It is a park full of shallow waters, ponds and rivers.

Project Date

Summer 2011

Logo Nomad Concept

The Nomad Concept is a Belgium-based studio practice focused on tensile and lightweight architecture. From our inception in 2000, we have delivered exceptional private, corporate and public projects.
As a full-service firm, The Nomad Concept is present on projects from start to finish, ensuring that the ideas conceived in the beginning with clients are manifest at the end. .

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