Over Theatre: Project for La Scala experimental theatre into the milan expo 2015 area


The project of the experimental Over Theatre developed rom two different points: on the one hand the theme, the research for the meaning and the role of the  contemporary theatre , in particularly one that is experimental, and on the other hand, the project area, the legacy and the continuity of the Expo2015 site, the city of Milan and the suburban settlement. .

The projects core  idea is that the proper space for a theatre must be the place which enables a strong relationship between actors and audience, in which catharsis takes place as a renewal of human soul during the performances. The aim and concept of the project is to give shape to this kind of space.

That is the starting point from which three half-spherical nucleus are suspended above the Expo2015 Open Air Theatre, i.e. a huge “cut in the ground” which was maintained as the sites’ project. The latter was remodeled to not only become the fourth theatre which horizontally relates to the other volumes, but also allows for an access point and collective space at the heart of the whole building,  vertically connecting to  the other theatre halls and to the walking paths around. It was intended for it t to become the public eference point.

Each and every of the three nuclei is unique: starting from the three main concepts with regards to performances – prose, music and movement – we experimented many variations of the main traditional components of the stage and the audience hall, in order to highlight the meaning of the space between the two parts. Shapes and directions of the spaces of performance and audience are rethinked ad hoc.

«A sphere as architectonic structure in place of customary theater. The spectators, on the wall of the sphere, find themselves in a new relationship to space. Because of their encompassing view, because of centripetal force, they find themselves in a new physic, optical, acoustical relationship; they find themselves confronted iwith new possibilities for concentric, eccentric, multidirectional, mechanical space-stage phenomena».

  1. 1. Weininger, in The Theater of The Bauhaus, O. Shlemmer, L. Moholy-Nagy, F. Molnár edito da W. Gropius + A. S. Wensinger, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 1961


Who influences you graphically?

The graphic aspect of the project was a very important part of our working process. Although we looked at many references and sources, there were no pre-determined choices and we preferred to analyze many different graphic approaches whilst developing and exploring  different aspects of the project.

From a simple aesthetic at the beginning, the increasing definition of the project led us to develop solutions that could best portray  the ethereal atmosphere of the theatre contemporarily  to the clearness of technical drawings. Many sources were consulted, especially those relating to historical experimentations: G.B. Piranesi and C.N. Ledoux are amongst the main ones, however the overall language of representation developed step by step with the project itself.

What prompted the project? What is your take on the Expo format and notion of exhibiting architecture?

We assumed Expo2015 was a very quick and evanescent episode, a temporary settlement in an area rich of opportunities. Exhibiting architecture as our theatre should not be confused with exhibition format events like Expo: the two themes are deeply different even if they both deal with collective forms of art.

We tried to work with the notion of exhibition and theatrical arts from various perspectives. through  different kinds of spaces as well as in varying periods of time. The aim was to create a flagship-architecture related to theatre, stable, durable but also flexible and frequently renewable in practices.

The design challenge was prompted by some post-Expo development plans: the latest (2017) version of these plans called for the venue of the experimental theatre building by Teatro alla Scala in central Milan.

What case studies. research did you look to when developing the project?

A wide research throughout the recent history of theatre design and experimentations was carried out during the first steps of our project. We focused especially on the avant-garde movements of the 20thcentury in Europe, trying to understand the main themes and subjects of their researches.

We discovered that many of the most interesting works were quite unknown when compared to the most visible and famous ones. We studied the Russian avant-garde with particular attention, but also looked at some examples from France, Germany and USA, all within the late decades of 19th c. and the first 5-6 decades of 20th c.

With regards to our homeland, we also studied some theoretical essays related to the architecture and to the arts of the theatre: many of those essays were four-handed written by both architects and theatre directors and were very interesting in providing a variety of points of view.

In hindsight what is the legacy of the Expo in Milan?

The expo2015 site is a colonized area located in the north-west peripheral part of the metropolis of Milan; today, its connections with the underground network of the city, the national highways and the high-speed railways, make the site an urban and territorial strategic pole.

Two years after the International Exhibition, the real Expo legacy is constituted by some traces of the settlement principles that regulated the pavilions edification: the urban layout, composed by a 40m width grid set on the main two orthogonal axes known as Cardo and Decumano, and the few architectures remained (e.g. Albero della VitaPalazzo ItaliaPavillion 0Open Air Theatre).

Focusing on the Decumano axis, it became the fundamental guide line which allowed to define the new built and green areas of the plan.

Another inherited element that influenced the design of the new masterplan is the surrounding context, whose margins have been reworked considering them as limits to affirmed or cesures to overcome.

What is your take on the infinite lives of skarglubbar cutouts- how do these relate to your architecture?

In many other projects we chose alternative silhouettes to be used in renders and images, we tried to customize them to highlight the features of our design outcome at its best. Within this project our objective was the design of an experimental theatre, which is, in our opinion, one of the most difficult topics in architecture because of the infinite different and personal ways of going through this kind of experience. That is the reason why we chose not to use any particular silhouette for our renderings.

We hesitated between b/w silhouettes and Skarglubbar cutouts, according to us both gave the freedom of identification into the project, but we considered that only the latter were “human” enough to be put in realistic images.

What was the effect and purpose of the monochromatic vs. yellow gradient?

The use of the combination of these colors is dictated by their evident strong chromatic contrast: the principle of “contrast” has in fact characterized the design and definition of certain parts of the project.

The theatrical performance, and the architecture that hosts it, are represented through the light element – the yellow color: this ethereal and impalpable element doesn’t perfectly define form and masses, but underlines the spectacular nature of the place.

On the contrary, the rest of the building, composed by solid mass and full structuring volumes, finds its graphic release through the grays-scale gradients, which build strong shapes, excavations, fulnesses and materiality.

What is your take on the render?

The rendering, even if we are not used to using it, has proved to be a fundamental tool for realizing this kind of graphic representation. The defined shadows, the strong shapes and the grey-scale surfaces of the rendering images have met our conceptual graphic type of presentation, giving us a good starting point for the final elaborations

What as your work process in terms of project development, and images to what extent were these integral to the process?

The complexity of theatre design is astonishing and led us to very difficult choices throughout the process. Since our task was to create an experimental theatre, we had to study also classical historical theatre and manage to develop a process for designing something while keeping into consideration the general issues. Our project started from the concept, as always, and proceeded by developing in parallel ways the architectural side and the technical side of the work.

Images, in this process, were part of the experimentation and also part of the testing for our ideas.