Theater Ugala in Viljandi, Estonia. Used materials: Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth and customised designed bricks, Terca ceramic brick slips and corners Red Smooth.
© Kaido Haagen / Wienerberger AS

The principle of flow

architectum issue renovation

Theater Ugala in Viljandi, Estonia. Used materials: Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth and customised designed bricks, Terca ceramic brick slips and corners Red Smooth.
© Arno Mikkor / Wienerberger AS

Interview

with R-Konsult architects

Theater Ugala in Viljandi, Estonia. Used materials: Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth and customised designed bricks, Terca ceramic brick slips and corners Red Smooth.
© Arno Mikkor / Wienerberger AS

Used products

Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth

The principle of flow

The Ugala Theatre in Viljandi opened its doors for the first time in 1981. Since then, it has developed into an institution that houses everything from children’s performance to international classical music. The architects from R-Konsult, who had originally designed the building, were commissioned to renovate the extraordinary venue.

"We managed to redesign the building so nothing was taken froma the visitor experience – instead we found ways to use the building more and more expediently." - Erkki Tammeleht, architect R-Konsult.

The original Ugala Theatre was built 30 years ago and at that time was one of the most modern buildings in the Baltic States. What is the challenge of renovating such a prestigious building? Were there restrictions or unexpected obstacles?

Architect Irina Raud: Reconstructing a building that was our own design after 30 years was an interesting challenge especially as it has now been declared under protection – a landmark of 20th century architecture. In general, it is more labour-intensive to reconstruct an existing building than to design a new one. You have to consider what to keep and what to add. Every angle needs to be remeasured. A good renovation means that it will go unnoticed. The building was reopened in autumn of 2016. The idea was that visitors will then step into a fresh, but by no means new building. As the original ideas and functionality are still working well after all these years we did not have to make any fundamental changes.

Which role do the right materials play in this context?

The exterior of renewed Ugala resembles the so-called old version. If you took two photos of Ugala’s new and old building, they would look completely alike. The old façade stone was removed, but it was replaced with a similarly designed and stacked red brick. That is why cooperation with Wienerberger worked so well for us. The smooth red bricks produced in the Aseri factory were perfectly suitable. In addition, specially designed bricks were made for the project and we used a lot of brick plates and corner plates, to reflect the original visual character of the theatre.
 
 

What was the vision behind your design? What inspired you?

When architect Inga Orav and myself went to see the future site of the theatre back in 1969 it was a grey and rainy day. There were a number of small sheds on the land with roofs wet from the rain that shined red from rust. The roofs created a bright contrast with the grey sky. That is what brought about the idea that the new building should be red – red brick.

The Ugala is a unique and strong building, but still merges into the surrounding environment. How does architecture manage to do this?

In functional and spatial design of Ugala, the creek that runs through the area was our main inspiration, as well as the high greenery area of the cemetery at the back of the land. Merging with nature, the theatre park rises as terraces and continues with different levels of the building up to the stage tower. This creates a situation where a large building was no longer visually as vast but seemingly a part of the landscape. That is how we felt at the time and this approach was successful.

How much do details matter?

The existence of original details in the Ugala theatre building is vital. Starting from the way external wall bricks are laid up to door handles and light fixtures. It is a challenge that I always happily accept. In the old Ugala building, there were architectural and interior architectural details that could definitely be called originals because you would not see them anywhere else, as many details had to be invented for the initial project. Nowadays, we have a lot of wholesale products, which is the reason why today’s architecture has relatively little detail. Mass production is taking over and there are increasingly few original solutions, but even so, one of the principles of Ugala’s renovation was to use as much work by Estonian designers as possible. The costum bricks made especially for us also contribute to the unique character of the theatre.

"In the case of the Ugala Theatre, we had to modernise a building with a clear and strong architectural voice in a way so as not to lose what makes Ugala unique." - Anna Temmo, architect R-Konsult.

Were the people who actually use the building (actors, employees, visitors etc.) involved in the renovation project? If so, how?

Cooperation with the theatre was an integral part of the reconstruction project. Their ideas and suggestions laid the foundation for our work. For example, the theatre staff wanted a roof for the café terrace on the second floor. The architect’s role is, and hopefully will be in the future, to create an enjoyable environment, an environment that users do not have to think about but can simply use and feel comfortable in. We have improved the opportunities for audience movement by taking into account the needs of people with reduced mobility, enabling them to move in the same zone as others so they would not be isolated elsewhere.

Have the requirements for theatre buildings changed over time?

From the audience’s point of view, it is not much. What a person cares about is that they are comfortable, that the theatre’s inherent mystery is preserved, and that the artist is respected. The goal of architects always was, and hopefully still is, to create the type of environment and atmosphere, a background, where a person feels good, not to push yourself onto them, not to steal the solo.

Theater Ugala in Viljandi, Estonia. Used materials: Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth and customised designed bricks, Terca ceramic brick slips and corners Red Smooth.
© Arno Mikkor / Wienerberger AS

Terca ceramic bricks Red Smooth and customised designed bricks, Terca ceramic brick slips and corners Red Smooth
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