Situated in a distinctly non-buildup area outside the city of Strasbourg. Poised between the suburbs and city center. A place for music which the most sophisticated connoisseurs describe as uncultured. A facility for accommodating an audience of 10,000-12,000. A shrine to hip-hop and events belonging to the culture of people living outside historical city centers. To be more precise, it was a question of creating a place for consecrating new suburban cultures and new multi-ethnic languages. The Strasbourg Zenith is the beating heart of the languages and dialects of outsiders. But it also belongs to those people who are part of the multitudes attending the ritual performances of pop concerts and who follow the schedule of events, which see leading bands and the world of show business shift from one side of Europe to the other. The Zenith is also a semicircular space in which the closeness of people to each other transforms the events-crazy spectators into one single hub.
The Strasbourg Zenith, the biggest in France (Zenith is the name given to all these music facilities sharing the same stylistic features and hence awarded the “Zenith Label”).
1. Landscape. As you drive along the motorway turnoff leading into the center of Strasbourg the landscape you see is totally unrecognizable and lacking in any striking features. Horizontality dominates everywhere. Traces of vegetation probably call to mind small woodlands which have been wiped out down the years by farming and rather unlikely constructions. This is what happens in the outskirts of the city of Strasbourg. A bourgeois city poised between Germany and France. My grandmother’s home city, who was both German and Alsatian by birth. As are all the inhabitants of the region, which is just a 5-minute drive from the border. Hardly surprisingly Strasbourg is considered a European city. Home of the European Parliament, with Luxembourg and the Netherlands just a few hundred kilometers away, as well as Switzerland. A very self-sufficient area, which, until just a few months ago, was a long way from Paris but which now, thanks to the TGV, can be reached in three hours. It has become a city connecting together the German and French high-speed railway networks. The definitive passageway towards Eastern Europe. Strangely enough, it will in fact be Strasbourg with its high-speed lines which will exclude Italy from the major routes of high-speed European trains.
2. A lamp. A strange orange-colored object came to light in this horizontal landscape, more like a sculpture (or a signal) than those rather arrogant stylistic designs usually associated with music and cultural facilities. If we begin at the center, the heart of the events space, then beyond the stands and the concrete we come to an interstitial space preparing us for the outside environment. The orange-colored fabric, composed of glass fibre with silicone spread across two sides, is a transition and filter between the large 20 m high foyer with its steel structure and the outside. This sculpture with distinctive non-parallel ring-shaped folds is opaque at daytime and almost transparent at night-time. It turns into a magical lamp and makes the place stand out from all those non-places. So the party can begin.
3. Geometry. The geometry of the Strasbourg Zenith derives from the rotating of two ovals generating a dynamic form offering thousands of different viewpoints. Endless things can be said about its outside image, due to the fact that it can be perceived in endless ways. The edge of the dramatically designed roof descends towards an asymmetric oval. The foyer is another place for hosting events and meetings where people meet up before joining in the collective rituals of lights, sounds and noises up on the giant stage. The Strasbourg Zenith as a striking stage mechanism. This can be seen from the roof structure, made of beams ranging from 4-6 meters in height and up to a maximum length of 110 meters, which combine to form a sort of bouquet in the middle. The pathways, which radiate out at this height, also help the giant stage’s technological apparatus function smoothly.
4. Immaterial, empty, air. “From form to air”. The architecture of the modern movement was relentlessly based on breaking with the style of the past. The end of a pseudo-classical sense of balance in the hope that time, space and speed (film) could prepare the way to a brighter future.
The changes at the beginning of the 1980s and indeed architecture, which became conceptual and tended towards the immaterial, was called into question just a few years later by an awareness that architecture itself is not made of “solids” but is actually based on “emptiness”. For years emptiness became a sanctuary where all leading architects were forced to sacrifice their hopes. In the case of the Strasbourg Zenith, what sets the outside fabric (measuring just a few millimeters) in a state of tension is “air” itself. Following intangibility and emptiness, air now represents a final attempt to achieve abstraction and remove weight from architecture, but without conceding anything in terms of stylishness and the quest for emotion.
In the wake of quantum physics, fractals and clouds, air is, rather absurdly, the most spectacular means imaginable. And, in this case, it is the physical place where rings dance or, as somebody called them, hula hoops. The Strasbourg Zenith is not interested in emptiness as an absolute value, but rather looks to the “middle” as an invisible model for a stage where the real performers will be everybody in attendance.
The ritual has begun. The power of the lights en-flames the spectators. An orange-colored light shines in the darkness to warm up those cold winter nights out in the Alsatian plains.
written by Massimiliano Fuksas
Architects: Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas
Project Leader: Jacques Gelez, Julien Terme
General contractor: Pertury Construction
Hall reinforced concrete and metal structures: Simon & Christiansen
Fabric production and installation: Canobbio
Scenography: Architecture et Technique
Location: Eckbolsheim, Strasbourg, France
Client: Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg
Area: 14,000 sq.m