The existing Auditorium, is a great example of Modernism, designed by iconic Israeli architects Arieh Sharon and Benjamin Idelson in 1955. The 2,000m² building is the largest performance hall on the Weizmann Institute campus.
HQ Architects were commissioned to undertake the renovation and extension of this iconic building, which falls under strict ‘preservation’ rules, and where the facades and contour of the building cannot be modified. However, the ambition for the new Michael Sela Auditorium was to double the area of the existing lobby, and add a new social space suitable to accommodate different activities that go beyond the standard use of foyer as a waiting space.
The concept is based on the observation that the exchange of opinions and ideas occurs very often around an event and not always during the event. With this in mind, HQ Architects designed a foyer that resembles a living room, an informal and inviting gathering space.
In order to create the new foyer, HQ Architects unveiled a hidden room that was found under the audience seating area. This space was an unused room, purposed to store all the technical equipment needed a few decades ago for the function of the performance hall. As the contemporary equipment needs have shrunk, this space was no longer required. The practice envisioned the creation of a new functional space by transforming it from hidden to public. By emptying this technical space and demolishing a few walls, an additional area of 250m² was revealed that would serve as the foyer, and even open up to the back garden of the building.
The challenge was to create a continuous foyer space from two essentially different rooms, with one of them under preservation, hence could not be retouched. While the entrance lobby remains intact and true to its modernist principles, the new foyer space designed by HQ Architects exhibits a different feel with a more theatrical ambience.
The addition of the foyer also changes the circulation of the building and creates a new journey for visitors. The public now enters from the old lobby, which serves as the ticket hall and orientation space and then smoothly descends towards the new foyer, which introduces 2 main entrances to the performance hall. During the performance break, the audience moves through those new entrances to the foyer and back to the show.
The foyer’s rich materiality and playful touch, act as a prologue to the performance space it serves. The diverse material palette creates a bold and dynamic space. The bespoke epoxy terrazzo floor contrasts with the warmth of the swamp beech wood timber panels covering the columns and the walls adjacent to the auditorium, while a series of symmetrical windows on the opposite wall provides generous views of the back garden. The new foyer also features a bar area with a seven meters long golden brass metal bar. The bar complements the two golden brass metal entrances on the opposite side, which take the visitor from the foyer into the auditorium space, creating a transitional moment between a bright and playful space and the darker and more austere performance environment.
Erez Ella, Founding Partner at HQ Architects says: ‘We are very excited to see the completion of the renovation of this iconic modernist piece of architecture. The new revealed foyer space unlocks the full potential of the building by creating a flexible space that is suitable for social gathering as well as hosting small communal events. With the refurbishment of the hall space, we added a unique piece of design that enhances the visitors and performers’ experience alike, giving back to the Weizmann Institute of Science a contemporary, bigger and more functional public building.’
Alon Weingarten, Head of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Construction and Engineering Division, says: ‘The renovation of the Michael Sela Auditorium has been one of the more challenging projects of the last few years, as it is a historical building listed for conservation. On one hand, the conservation guidelines had to be met and, on the other, we wanted to create a fresh new look for the building that would stand out on the international stage, and which would be useful for a wide range of activities. These include lectures, concerts and plays – each with its own requirements for acoustic quality, be they scientific or cultural. Thus the acoustic system and the multimedia systems we installed are among the best in the world.’