Dutch National Opera & Ballet (DNO&B) will be opening a new small theatre: Studio Boekman. This new performance space, which is perfect for experimenting, is designed to attract young makers and a broad audience. Sustainability is obviously a key consideration in the building process. Tony Hofman, Roos Bernelot Moens and Julie Fuchs, who work at DNO&B, tell us more.
Although the City of Amsterdam has long used the Boekmanzaal as its auditorium for ceremonial gatherings, it was actually meant for DNO&B when the building was completed in 1986. It even has dressing rooms in the basement. The space will now be restored to its original purpose. It is currently being given a major overhaul. From the start of the new season, it will serve as an intimate performance space: Studio Boekman.
Roos Bernelot Moens, head of Fundraising & Corporate Relations: ‘This was a long-held dream of ours. When the City allocated the space to us in 2018, we started raising funds for the renovation of this small theatre, along with our lobby area, right away. The City may own the building, but we’re paying for the building works. That’s why we, at DNO&B, are in charge as far as deciding which sustainability criteria will be applied.’
‘We want the theatre to be accessible to everyone, both in a literal and a figurative sense’
The goal is to renovate and operate the theatre as sustainably as possible. Bernelot Moens: ‘We plan to use the space for all kinds of activities and target groups. In Studio Boekman, there will be room for experiment, young talent and education. Diversity and inclusion are priorities for us, so we want the theatre to be accessible to everyone. Thresholds are coming down, both literally and figuratively.’
Technical production and design aspects such as acoustics and lighting are important in the renovation process of course, but energy efficiency, reuse of existing materials and the use of renewable resources come into play as well. DNO&B uses the BREEAM sustainability criteria as a basis for its sustainability strategy.
‘The more versatile a space, the more sustainable’
Julie Fuchs, Sustainability Coordinator: ‘The more versatile a space, the more sustainable. Because flexibility was key, we decided on a black box theatre with a retractable seating area. This allows us to programme performances for both seated and standing audiences. We’ll also have partitioning walls so that we can create different staging options and configurations.’
Fuchs goes on to explain that the existing wood flooring will be reused and that the storage warehouse will be rummaged through to look for reusable materials.
Doing more with less
Tony Hofman, Project Leader Renovations, believes that sustainability should be a mindset and not just a checkbox. ‘Doing more with less, that’s the idea. Our main stage is outfitted to an extremely high level, for audiences, for performers and for our own people alike. Studio Boekman will be different. For example, we don’t have as many lights here, so we might have to rent some from time to time. The dressing room will be multifunctional: there could be a dresser in there ironing today and a stage director working on their laptop tomorrow. That will probably require some adjusting on the part of the creative teams as well.’
‘We need to change our mindset from plenty to just enough’
Hofman says that the renovation process involves a lot of weighing the pros and cons of certain materials: ‘We want to use as little heavy hardwood as possible, but the brand of sound-insulating doors we ideally want might use hardwood that doesn’t meet our criteria. That’s when we have no choice but to loosen them. That said, when the architect wanted to use certified Meranti wood, a hardwood from a tropical tree species, for all door frames, we said no. European pine is perfectly suitable for these types of applications.’
Solar panels and rainwater
Plans for future sustainability improvements are already in the making. Hofman: ‘We’d like to install solar panels on the flat roof of the new theatre. We’re still exploring our options, but we’ve decided to lay the wiring for them regardless, so we won’t have to open up any ceilings later.’
The same goes for grey water pipes. Hofman: ‘We want to reduce our drinking water consumption and are looking at whether we can use rainwater to flush the toilets in the building. To do so, we need a rainwater storage system as well as a new network of pipes. Since we’re renovating anyway, now’s the time to install those pipes. The City, which owns the building, has a say in this as well of course. Luckily, they’re also trying to reduce their drinking water consumption. The provincial authorities are all for it too. They have special subsidy schemes for this and we’ll be applying for a grant.’
‘We’re looking at whether we can use rainwater to flush the toilets in the building’
Bernelot Moens: ‘I would add that, while those subsidies are an extra incentive for us to consider even more sustainability improvements, it also works the other way around in that sustainability creates more opportunities for fundraising. Donors are increasingly embracing green projects: they’re making their donation contingent on sustainability performance. This is a positive development in our opinion.’
Studio Boekman – formerly the Boekmanzaal – is named after Emanuel Boekman, a Jewish politician who served as Amsterdam city councillor for culture just before World War II. Boekman’s mission was to make art and culture accessible to the general public and he felt that this should be actively facilitated by the government. Bernelot Moens: ‘We’re honoured to pay homage to Mr Boekman’s legacy at this location in particular, between City Hall and our theatre, and – more importantly – in Amsterdam’s former Jewish Quarter.’
Text: Anne Havelaar