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The Shakespeare Theatre in Gdansk, Poland


The Shakespeare Theatre in Gdansk, designed by Renato Rizzi, is the first theatre in Poland since 1989 that is built as a green field project. Its retractable roof over the auditorium, consisting of two movable roof planes with dimensions 10.5 x 21m each is unique in the world.

The Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre is located on the south-west edge of the historic city centre. It consists of three main spatial components: walls surrounding the theatre complex, the main building volume with dominant scene tower and the unique retractable roof over the auditorium, and office building with hotel rooms for artists. A basement under the theatre complex houses a car park, plant areas and museum facilities.

One of the project owner's requirements laid down in the architectural brief was that the theatre shall allow staging of plays written for both the open Elizabethan stage and traditional Italian box stage. Conflicting requirements were successfully combined by dividing the main part of the auditorium into modules and implementing retractable platforms that enable five basic space variations with different stage-auditorium configurations:

  • -Elizabethan theatre – a central stage with dimensions 8.65 x 8.4 m, raised 1.2 m above the auditorium level, closed by a movable facade; an open roof, spectators are standing around the stage and on surrounding galleries. Architect Renato Rizzi's idea was to place the theatre – the auditorium and the Elizabethan stage – like a jewel in a jewel case.
  • -Italian theatre – platforms forming the stage are lowered to create a typical stepped auditorium; on the stepped floor are assembled 13 rows of chairs; pieces of scenery are stored in the side rooms; the combined available stage and backstage area dimensions are 18.4 m depth and 13.75 m width, an overhead rigging above the stage; roof closed.
  • -Experimental theatre (theatre in the round) – the platforms of traditional stage are lowered forming a mirror image of the auditorium; the space with dimensions 8.4 x 8.4 m so created in the centre is designed for staging modern plays where the traditional division into the audience, stage, wings disappears and spectators can watch a performance from all sides.
  • -Banquet hall (a function hall) – platforms lowered to level zero form a plane with dimensions 28.45 x 14 m,
  • -Fencing Hall – taking into consideration that in the past, on the place where the theatre is erected there was the 17th century Swordplay School edifice (demolished in19th century), the design enables organization of fencing competitions: all platforms are lowered to level zero and along the space thus created are placed movable platforms for fencing pistes.

The design provides for service bridges over the auditorium, used for suspending sound and lighting equipment. Due to the retractable roof and possibility for staging "open air" performances the bridges are fully mobile. For the purposes of Elizabethan performances the bridges, moving on rails installed on the gallery roof of timbers, can be shifted together and concealed.

The innovative structure of the roof consists of two movable roof-planes with dimensions approx. 10.5 x 21 m each which can be fully open by rotating 90 degrees on a hinge placed along its longer side. The structure is based on a spatial truss: the top and bottom chords form a rhomboidal grid; wall bars are made of square steel sections arranged in the form of the letter "K". The roof-plane is fasten by means of seven brackets to steel frames in which screw drives are installed.

The roof structure is fixed to the building's reinforced concrete structure and concealed behind the parapet wall, it is thus not visible from the street level. Anemometers are attached on each wing to measure the wind speed, giving an alarm when a predetermined threshold is reached and the roof is then closed. The roof is clad in pre-patinated copper with standing seams. Thermal insulation is provided by composite panels filled with polyurethane foam. Acoustic panels with spot light fittings are placed in in the upper truss plane to expose and enhance the spatial aspects of the roof structure.



Urząd Miasta Gdańska
Completion date: 
Zip code: 
Ogarna 101


Type of building: 
Copper used: 


Name, office: 
Renato Rizzi
Address & description: 

Copper contractors

Address & description: 
ul. Powstańców Warszawy 19 81-718 Sopot



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