Kaaitheater Brussels
Renovation and expansion of the Kaaitheater in dialogue with KANAL

Location : Saintcteletteplein, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Client : Vlaamse Overheud + Kaaitheater
Architect : Czvek Rigby in collaboration with Assemble Studio
Structural Engineer: Structure Workshop in collaboration with Boydens Engineering
Technical Engineer: Boydens Engineering
Conservation Consultant: JDMA + Alan Baxter
Acoustic Consultant : Kahle Acoustics
Surface : 9.546 m²
Budget : 11.800.000 EUR excl. VAT & fees
Competition : 2019 (shortlisted - 2nd laureate)

The design adopts a collage approach, drawing on a long history of transformation at the Kaai, which enhances the character of the existing building by introducing new elements that stitch the site together. In seeking variety, different atmospheres and architectures are created within the block meaning that the entire building becomes conceived as a space for theatre, allowing for a multitude of different types of performance to take place.

Key changes to the main hall, shortening its length and adding seating to the sides, allow it to become more intimate while providing new sorts of configurations for both stage and audience. This has the added benefit of creating a larger foyer space outside, which improves the collective social experience of visiting the theatre. Such spatial moves are informed by a desire to make meaningful connections between audiences, occasional visitors and those who work at the Kaai, emphasized in a series of new routes through the site that creates views and a sense of permeability. Important to this experience is the expansion of the public connection across the first-floor level, which gives audiences a dual sense of porosity in terms of their relationship overlooking the canal, but also if desired, the opportunity to directly access the carwash space in Kanal.

The restoration of the Boiler Room is, therefore, a unique focal point, forming part of a continuous foyer at first floor, which is both a generous meeting point before and after performances and also, a polyvalent space that offers the potential for surprise encounters for the public throughout the day. By opening up the Small Hall to the Boiler Room, the stage or seating area can be enlarged, which work together to facilitate an expanded programme that allows the theatre to be easily adapted for impromptu and alternative performances.

Imagining the Kaai as a lively place, occupied by many people throughout the day, the proposed design puts a high priority on the experience of staff, theatre companies and the actors who come for work and rehearsals. Consolidating spaces of production on the upper floors of the main new insertion, this building offers extraordinary views towards the city while remaining entirely flexible due to the rational approach of its design where the floor plates span from the core to the façade.

The decorative nature of the art deco period inspires the new architecture of the Kaai, by adopting a subtle palette of similar colours and patterns, employed instead to express this new sense of functionality. Playing with the spirit of the existing building’s history, such motifs serve to create a simplified contemporary language that announces a new phase in the theatre’s development and its urban presence.

Two new entrances to the Kaai give a strong identity to the corner of the site, which addresses the newly created public space on the Akenkaai, encouraging visitors to flow throughout the ground floor. Activating both the Kaai’s facades gives further unity to the urban block, augmented by the effect of the white fibreglass elevation of the new ‘fourth’ building, with its fragments of colour hinting at the palimpsest of activities taking place inside the Kaai.