‘The Kamal Theatre’s building is considered as part of the Lake Kaban space’

What competitors of a contest for the new design of one of the architectural symbols of Kazan offered

‘The Kamal Theatre’s building is considered as part of the Lake Kaban space’
Photo: Maxim Platonov

In the middle of October, the international jury of the competition to design the architectural concept of the Kamal Theatre chose eight finalists who will come in late November and get acquainted with the theatre’s culture and traditions and the republic in general. In late September, the expert council, in which Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent Radif Kashapov participated, saw and evaluated all the applications that had been submitted.

Theatre on Khadi Taktash Street

A total of 537 candidates from Russia and foreign countries registered on the website of the contest. 39 applications met conditions of the competition, of which 39 are consortiums and 13 individual competitors. As a result, there were 87 companies from 14 countries and 28 cities. As for foreign companies, the list includes organisations from Barcelona, Brussels, Vienna, London, New York, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, etc.

Each application was assessed according to three big criteria: if the team had representatives of Tatarstan — architects, historians, composers, artists; if the portfolio lives up to the expectations, if there are in particular projects of public buildings, theatres; essays. I considered the latter as the illustration of the company’s readiness to work, their deep understanding of the theme, a desire to show they are innovators and advocates of traditions.

Obviously, the building of the theatre is a building for people, from spectators to actors

The rules of the contest prohibit mentioning the teams that didn’t make it to the final. But we can say what they wrote about, what they wanted, thus showing the general mood of architects regarding the new building of the Kamal Theatre.

You immediately note that it is considered as part of the Lake Lower Kaban space. Only one of the applicants remembered that it was on Khadi Taktash Street (by the way, it would be great if the would-be finalists familiarised themselves with the history of this toponym). This means a lot of people will see the building from that angle, from Taktash and Nazarbayev Streets. Obviously, the building of the theatre is a building for people, from spectators to actors. By the way, one of the competitors remembers that many people would literally live here. This means it is necessary to make sure their round-the-clock stay is comfortable. The desire to create better living conditions became one of the reasons why the management of the theatre was for expansion but received a proposal with a new facility.

It is also seen that the theme of the Tatar identity is repeatedly touched on by the applicants, but as a tourist landmark so far. There are bits of ornamentalism, bits of legends. The story about the treasures of the lake is popular, of course. Though it is stressed at times that the Kamal Theatre is a kind of portal to Tatar culture.

The desire to create better living conditions became one of the reasons why the management of the theatre was for expansion but received a proposal with a new facility

First of all, most essayists are building a revolutionary theatre. It doesn’t have the backstage, there is no border between the spectator and the actor, but there are laboratories and public spaces. One of the applicants offers to remove the border between the creation of the building and the plays. One should perhaps be careful about breaking traditions because the Tatar theatre has always quite successfully balanced between experiments and traditions. In this respect, a project that offered to get inspired by The Blue Shawl play.

Architecture? Spectators!

As for the appearance, not all authors offered some drafts, though this shows how important this project was to them. Here we can see examples of austere functionality, some facilities will keep the Cup, Pyramid and other geometrical figures good company. Authors sometimes try to blend with the surrounding nature, so their theatre becomes “a hobbit’s house in the Shire” but with car parking or repeats Soviet modernism on a large scale, for instance, buildings on Tatarstan Street. One of the proposals in general visually resembles a power plant tower.

Online seminars, the Kamal Theatre’s plays, a meeting with the theatre company, a tour on the territory awaits the finalists

However, there weren’t projects that would clearly say a Tatar building was planned. But this is the problem of the architectural tradition. The current theatre is an example of Soviet modernism adorned with ornaments. Historical mosques and mansions are a compromise between the client’s desires who is a merchant and a Russian, German, Finn architecture of the past. You won’t find references to theatres in Bulgarian examples. You won’t see staunch advocates of building buildings and naming them “examples of Tatar architecture” in today’s Kazan. We should just remind the audience that performances in the mother tongue and spectators make the Kamal Theatre Tatar. First of all, it must be a building where the Tatar speech will be heard.

Who did the jury choose as finalists on 12 October? We will just say what they had created earlier. It is V&A Dundee museum in Scotland, the new building of the Museum of London, House of Music in Aalborg, Denmark, the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Sevastopol, electro theatre Stanislavsky in Moscow, еру Darius Milhaud Conservatoire in d'Aix-en-Provence, Bezanson Regional Community & Cultural Centre, Busan Cinema Center in Centum City, the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, the Opera Theatre in Guangzhou, Changsha Meixihu International Culture and Arts Centre.

Online seminars, the Kamal Theatre’s plays, a meeting with the theatre company, a tour on the territory awaits the finalists. They are to present their concepts on 20 January. The results will be announced in February.

Radif Kashapov. Photo: Maxim Platonov
Tatarstan