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Arquitectura por la vida: Covid-secure performance venues are here

Despite our hopes for the vaccine, restrictions on our social lives seem to loom indefinitely. New collaborative architecture firms have proposed social distancing-friendly performance venues to keep things afloat.

By this point, it is no surprise that social distancing laws have had a devastating financial impact on public venues, despite their positive effect on slowing virus transmission.

One of the worst-hit areas has been the entertainment industry, which relies on footfall to keep doors open, staff in action, and revenue coming in.

Many organisations have forged inventive quick fixes where restrictions allow, such as the Berliner Ensemble theatre group, which removed 500 of the 700 seats in their 19th Century Schiffbauerdamm building in May of last year. This savvy modification successfully allowed performances to continue while keeping audience household groups seated 1.5 metres apart from each other, as local rules dictated.

Some of the most innovative and Covid-secure solutions, however, have come from brand new structure designs, inspired by the limitations of the pandemic and intended to provide a better standard of safety to both performers and spectators. In an effort to create sustainable spaces for a post-pandemic world, architecture ‘laboratory’ Colab-19 have built La Concordia, a multi-use plaza in Bogotá.

The design uses the ancient, open-air model of the amphitheatre to combat the most current and pressing issue of our time.

Scaffolding and sheets of natural yute fabric – widely used to package potatoes and coffee – are composed into a layered structure that offers a retail space on the ground floor, dining and audience seating on the first floor, and a green rooftop on the highest level, which delivers a panoramic view of the city.

These layers are composed in a ‘U’ shape, centred around a large performance space in the middle. Amidst the isolation of the pandemic, the structure can be used as a cultural and social hub, offering plays and concerts but also cinema screenings and yoga classes for the residents of the Colombian capital.

In a city that has experienced one of the longest lockdowns in the world – where the majority of inhabitants are not able to work from home and thousands have lost their jobs to venue closures – Colab-19’s design offers hope that a new normal can be achieved. It suggests that with enough ingenuity and a degree of fresh thinking, public life can be reinstated. A large sign on the structure’s exterior reads ‘# ARQUITECTURA POR LA VIDA’ – architecture for life.

Colab-19 chose to use low-cost and repurposable materials to help keep the budget as minimal as possible, responding to Bogotá’s increasingly volatile economy brought about by the events of the last year. The resulting aesthetic is quite different from what regular theatregoers might be used to, but the courtyard of industrial platforms delivers on offering a quick and creative solution to an immediate and pressing problem.

The newly formed Vertical Theatre Group has taken a similar approach to their designs for a Covid-era performance space, with a pop-up venue that consists of multiple open-air platforms.

Imagined and developed by entertainment architects Stufish along with other theatre professionals, the design was ‘conceived with social distancing in mind to future-proof the live entertainment industry’, which they describe as ‘reeling from the pandemic’.

The structure is intended to tour the world, with a roof to protect visitors from all climates and open sides to provide optimum ventilation. Balconies are arranged to wind around the central stage, accommodating up to 2400 people in groups of 4-12. The audience is separated into viewing boxes that empty onto large walkways, designed to prevent the bottlenecking of moving spectators that so often occurs in traditional theatres during performance breaks and closure.

Vertical Theatre Group’s flexibility, which goes so far as to rethink the way the audience moves through space, offers a thorough solution to public venue use in the post-Covid world.

In 2019, the private boxes could be seen to rival, even, the traditional viewing experience, offering a some-what secluded space for gathering with friends and family away from the hustle and bustle of the busy crowd. A year into the pandemic, however, the mingling, mosh-pitting, and manic environment of the open concert floor has gained a nostalgic appreciation that the architects would be hard-pressed to top.

For now, we can at least be grateful that architecture firms are coming together to make the first big steps in adapting to our new situation. They might even be the key to unlocking public performances to us once again; hopefully for good this time.


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