NO99 Straw Theatre is an object standing on the verge of being a pure functional container on one hand, and an art installation on the other. The Straw Theatre is built on the occasion of Tallinn being the European Capital of Culture, to house a special summer season programme of theatre NO99, lasting from May to October 2011. Thus it is a temporary building, operating for half a year, built for a specific purpose, programme and location.
The Straw Theatre is built in central Tallinn, on top of the former Skoone bastion, one of the best preserved baroque fortifications of Tallinn. At the beginning of the 20th century, the bastion worked as a public garden, and during the Soviet era it was more or less restricted recreational area for the Soviet navy with a wooden summer theatre and a park on top. With the summer theatre having burnt down and the Soviet troops gone, for the last 20 years the bastion has remained a closed and neglected spot in the centre of town with real estate controversies and several failed large-scale development plans. In such a context, the Straw Theatre is an attempt to acknowledge and temporarily reactivate the location, test its potential and bring it back to use, doing all this with equally due respect to all historical layers of the site.
The rectangular main volume of the theatre is situated exactly on the same spot as the navy summer theatre, and one descending flight of stairs of the latter is used as a covered walkway and entrance area to the Straw Theatre. The building is surrounded by various outdoor recreational functions including an oversized chess board, table tennis, swings, and a baking oven, all with a non-commercial and pleasantly low-key feel.
The dramatic appeal of the building stems from its contextual setting on the site and its black, uncompromisingly mute main volume contrasting with a descending„tail“ with an articulate angular roof. And of course one cannot escape the effect of the material– uncovered straw bales, spraypainted black. The Straw Theatre is a unique occasion where straw has been used for a large public building and adjusted to a refined architectural form. For reinforcement purposes, the straw walls have been secured with trusses, which is a type of construction previously unused. As the building is temporary, it has not been insulated as normal straw construction would require but has been kept open to experience the raw tactile qualities of the material and accentuate the symbolic level of the life cycle of this sustainable material.
* Photo credits: Martin Siplane, with exceptions by Paul Aguraiuja, Karli Luik, published online courtesy of Salto Architects.
Check out our feature on the Straw Bale School by Mark Depreeuw here!