Radical grassroots intervention transforms Stalin-era outdoor theater site

, Cities

Author Lynsey Free

A crowdsourced park pavilion project in Ukraine, directed by urbanist and former Strelka tutor Kuba Snopek and designed by a team of architects led by Tomasz Świetlik, sets an excellent example of how to update a post-Soviet public space.

1 / 4

Photo: Alexandr Burlaka

2 / 4

Photo: Alexandr Burlaka

3 / 4

Photo: Alexandr Burlaka

4 / 4

Photo: Alexandr Burlaka

The project, called Stage, breathes new life to an area in Dnipro's main public space, Shevchenko Park. It stands at the site of a wooden theater which was built in 1935 and later burned down during World War II. The site had been abandoned for 70 years.

That quiet abandonment is no more. Stage consists of a big screen, a storage space and lounge, and an acoustic tube similar to those found in old gramophones, which serves as an amplifier for musical performances. It aims to provide a place for artists, poets, painters, and musicians in the city. This was seen as particularly vital following the Euromaidan protests which spurred a diverse network of social and artistic movements.

Its powerful aim is complemented by simple construction. Stage was built over a concrete slab, made of small pillars and solid timber beams closed with plywood panels. Its surroundings were decorated with plants, courtesy of Dnipro’s Botanic Gardens.

Stage blurs the border between performers and audience members, representing an environment which is a far cry from the hierarchy inherent to Soviet architecture. There are no fences, no face control, and it's totally free to everyone. This is significant because Dnipro was completely closed off to non-residents for almost 30 years during the Soviet era, as it was home to the top-secret Yuzhmash facility, a major ballistic missile production center.

Green Theater built in 1935

Instead of being a structure merely imposed on the citizens of Dnipro, residents played a star role in Stage’s creation by collectively designing, crowdsourcing, and crowdfunding it.

"Collaborative work is the essence of this project," said urbanist and architecture theorist Snopek, who served as project initiator and director. He added that crowdsourcing was used "to bring people together and integrate them around the task of building the pavilion."

Snopek said that the team tried to make the project as inclusive as he could. "The aim was to incorporate as many creative contributions as possible and convert them into a coherent architectural form."

And while the structure was designed by architects from Ukraine, Poland, Denmark, and Italy, citizens are the ones who wrote the brief, crowdfunded the building materials, cleaned the site, and participated in Stage's construction.

Once Stage was built, citizens then shifted their role to an organizational one, planning and scheduling events to take place there.

1 / 2

Photo: Katerina Kovacheva

2 / 2

Photo: Katerina Kovacheva

"The space became a meeting point for dozens of different initiatives – cultural, art, music, theater, cinema, urban performance or literature, social, charity garage sales, open discussions...meetings of young mothers, volunteers, and activists," project initiator and communications director Kate Rusetska said.

Although Stage was a new project with a new vision, historical elements were considered and restored.

"Stage is a critical preservation project. On the one hand, we aimed to restore the function, which had existed there before – an open park theater. On the other hand, we invented it anew," lead architect Tomasz Świetlik said.

“As a statement in favour of self-management and co-production of meeting places for social interaction, the experience bequeathed by the stage is confirmation that Ukrainian civil society is ready to rethink the uses and values that the authorities allocate to public space,” the European Prize for Urban Public Space wrote in its Special Mention.

The European Prize for Urban Public Space is a biennial initiative of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). It is the only prize in Europe which recognizes and promotes space that is both public and urban.

If you noticed a typo or mistake, highlight it and send to us by pressing Ctrl+Enter.