The Cologne municipal theatres Bühnen Köln, incorporating theatre and opera, have been located on the plaza Offenbachplatz in the centre of town for the last 50 years. In terms of style, the listed ensemble designed by Wilhelm Riphahn oscillates between understatement and surprising monumentality.
In 2011 the budget for the renovation of the theatre and opera houses, as well as the new construction of the children’s opera and Kleines Haus (studio stage) was estimated at 253 million euros. However, complications in planning and execution of the building services meant that the reopening planned for 2015 had to be cancelled. The planning process was then reassumed. Currently, the budget for the reconstructions costs stands at between 545 and 570 million euros (including ancillary expenses). This does not include the costs for the interim venues.
The inauguration of the opera and the separate restaurant building named »Opernterrassen« on the plaza Offenbachplatz took place in 1957; the new theatre opened in 1962. The houses had been staging performances for over 50 years when, due to the buildings’ poor state of repair and the condition of their technical facilities, the City of Cologne decided a new building was needed for the theatre and that the opera would require renovation. Following a restricted architectural design competition for the theatre building, the collaborative design by JSWD Architekten, Cologne and Chaix & Morel from Paris was chosen. Originally, the new building was to also house the rehearsal stages, which had previously been located elsewhere in Cologne, as well as workshops, a studio stage and the children’s opera.
During the design planning phase it became clear that the costs would exceed the budget approved by the city government. The functional and spatial programme was consequently reduced. At the same time a successful public petition was launched for the preservation of both buildings. In 2010, a VOF procedure was tendered for the renovation of the existing buildings – this included the theatre, the café at the time and the opera house. The planning consortium made up of the Cologne office HPP Architekten and theapro from Munich was awarded the contract for the architectural planning.
Building work commenced in 2012; the inauguration was planned for November 2015. The structural engineering works and the work on the stage technology went according to plan. However, planning and executing the necessary work on the building services proved highly complex; difficulties at the specialist planners and the company implementing the work resulted in the date for the inauguration needing to be pushed back. A comprehensive realignment of the renovation project followed, with Bühnen Köln as developer and project manager now working with a revised team. The planning of the building services for 2,280 rooms, including around 720 km of mains and cables and 58 ventilating systems, was put up for tender once more. The ensemble of buildings is now projected to go turnkey in the fourth quarter of 2022.
The stage ensemble will be made up of four different stage houses: the opera with space for over 1,200 spectators, the theatre with around 700 seats, Kleines Haus with 200 seats, and the children’s opera also with 200 seats. The latter was newly constructed just below the plaza Kleiner Offenbachplatz.
Since 2015 the opera has been using the »Staatenhaus, a former fair building in Cologne’s Deutz district, as a performance venue with three stages (850 / 800 / 200 seats). In the interim the theatre is housed in the «Depot im Carlswerk,« a former manufacturing hall with three stages (465, 230 and 50 seats) in the Mülheim district. In addition, since September 2016 the former «Opernterrasse« has been successfully used as the Kleines Haus (»Außenspielstätte am Offenbachplatz« –external production venue on Offenbachplatz) for temporary productions.