Since the 1980s, culture has become a priority in the development of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais area; La Comédie De Bethune reflected the will of the elected representatives of the department to be equipped with a National Drama center and represents the most emblematic cultural equipment of the city.
Installed in a marquee with three hundred seats in 1992, the theatre moved in 1993 in an old powder magazine, built by Vauban and refurbished into a Studio Theatre which is still used nowadays.
There was initially a movie theatre called The Palace built in the 1930s on the present site of La Comédie De Bethune. The facade of the building maintained by girders, was all that was left when it was demolished in the 1990s.
In 1994, the agency Manuelle Gautrand Architecture won the competition for the construction of the theatre. From the beginning, the project anticipated what has now become an extension: it already was in the form of two functional sections, the first one containing most of the program, which was then carried out, the second one immediately unrealizable because it was positioned on the corner of the plot, involving the demolition of a house.In 2009, having the corner house been demolished, the project could be completed and Manuelle Gautrand Architecture, winner of a new architectural competition for the extension of the existing theatre, improved and completed the global functioning of the theatre, adding a rehearsal room and updating the building in order to meet safety regulations (which have changed since 15 years).The extension is located on the corner of the plot, on three levels: a volume of high-rise located on the same level as the natural ground, and dedicated to the rehearsal room; then a level of offices, which links with the existing office floor to the second floor of the building.The size of the rehearsal room allows relocating the hall on the corner of the November 11th street and the Avenue Victor Hugo, a provision that already existed during the competition in 1994. This position has several advantages: it allows to give a better visibility to the theatre and to make the coffee bar more accessible. The coffee bar formerly located under the volume of the room’s floor, could not benefit neither of a direct entrance from the Avenue Victor Hugo, nor a natural lighting. Now, the construction of the hall corner connects directly to the coffee, bringing a natural lighting and making it an animated and welcoming passageway.Above, the administration has a larger and more functional space thanks to the extending from the second floor of the existing theatre.
Many spaces have also been changed within the existing building. Indeed, since the delivery of the original building fifteen years ago, several safety regulations evolved, including the fire safety regulations and the accessibility to all spaces of the theatre for disabled people. The extension also required the construction of a staircase located on the right of the future hall and serving on the first floor the upper level of the rehearsal room of the CNAD (National Academy of the Dramatic Arts) and its additional premises, and the offices on the second floor. Finally, the building reached the most ambitious thermal and energy regulations.
The agency used all these work to complete the room above the pit, which had been left «raw» during the construction of the original building, into a second, smaller rehearsal room without grid, with an access facilitated by the raising of the staircase of the offices.
For the extension, Manuelle Gautrand took the architectural concept of a simple volume, almost rectangular, which comes to close the angle between the Boulevard Victor Hugo and the 11th November street.
Symbolically this extension seems to connect all the functions: the lobby envelops the new rehearsal room to open itself on both streets. The lobby connects successively the historic hall and the new rehearsal room. Its length allows installing several bars that create more places of breaks dedicated to the artists or the audiences.
Location: Béthune, France
Client: La Comédie de Bethune
Gross Floor Area: 20,820 m2
Cost of Construction: 3,600,000 Euro
Architects: Manuelle Gautrand Architecture
Main Contractor: Ramery
Stage design: Bati-scene
Structural engineering: Khephren
Acoustics: Jean-Paul Lamoureux
Fluids engineering & economy: Hexa Ingenierie
Scheduling and coordination: HD Project
Photography: 1-3/17 © Luc Boegly, 2 © Philippe Ruault