The opening this week of Daniel Libeskind‘s new Grand Canal Theatre, a razzle dazzle production in its own right, threatened to upstage the gentle ballet on the building’s main stage. With its dramatic, four story glass facade, sharply angled roof line, and turbulent diagonal lines, the debut of Libeskind’s latest creation was a major cultural happening for Dublin, a city that’s been battered by the economy, and desperately needs something to cheer about.
And cheer they did. Ireland’s president, Mary McAleese, turned out for the Russian State Ballet’s performance of “Swan Lake,” along with Irish actor Brendon Gleeson (Hogwart’s professor “Mad Eye Moody” in the Harry Potter films) actress Rebecca Miller, and various other luminaries from sports, film, politics, arts, and business.
The theatre, which is part of a major rehab of Dublin’s docklands, will seat 2100 and be managed by Live Nation Ireland. It overlooks Grand Canal Square, the new urban piazza designed by Martha Schwartz Partners. The architectural concept of the area’s redesign is itself based on stages: the stage of the theatre, the stage of the piazza, and the multiple levels above the theatre lobby overlooking the piazza, which make a fine venue from which to watch the urban drama below.
The entrance to the theater was modeled on the concept of a theater curtain, with overlapping folds, enabling visitors to enter as if through a stage curtain. The theater’s auditorium harkens back to the city’s shipbuilding past, with suspended “sails” concealing technological doo-dads such as gantries and other equipment. The “ribs” on the side of the auditorium evoke the timbers of a ship’s hull.
Libeskind, whose latest project was the glitzy Crystals, the mall at City Center in Las Vegas, was bubbling with bonhomie at the opening, happy to be part of a good-news story in an era of economic gloom. “Dublin is a city resurrected over the last 10 years and it’s just breathtaking what has happened,” he says. “It has been transformed from an ancient city to one that is vibrant, youthful, exciting, dynamic….that’s what architecture can do for a city.”
Photos by Ros Kavanagh.