Is this the most well-designed theatre in Scandinavia?
The renovation, created by multidisciplinary design collective NAVET, is ”a dramatic concept in 4 different acts.”
11 Jan 2024

NAVET is founded by Lina Huring, Maria Johansson, Helena Svensson, and Cecilia Wahlberg, is based in Stockholm and Milan, and has worked with the likes of H&M Group, IKEA, Svenskt Tenn, and Vitra Design Museum. The latest client, Konträr, is a venue for new and experimental, contemporary theatre, presenting international guest artists and collectives, national joint productions, conceptual shows, and concerts. Located in an underground basement at Södermalm in central Stockholm, the space was in need of a full renovation to fit the new activities. 

— We came up with a dramatic concept in 4 different acts — the entrance, dark and long, with custom made light fixtures, opening up to the second act, a colorful lounge, and work space where guests and staff can socialise, Cecilia Wahlberg shares. We used strong contrasting colours to give life to these social parts of the theatre. Act 3 is a completely black box, a stage and two flexible terraced seating units which allows for different setups depending on what is performed. In the fourth and last act we enter the backstage dressing rooms, where the actors prepare before and relax after the show. Here we used a soft vinyl flooring in green, and added bright neon art lighting in the cylindrical, high ceilinged room that was formerly used for storing brewery tanks and that is now used as a make up room. Textiles, tiles, and flooring were used as colour splashes throughout the space and we designed custom lights and mirrors for corridors and bathrooms.

Wahlberg explains that it was clear for both NAVET and the client, PotatoPotato — a performing arts group which runs the place — to find a balance between avoiding classic theatre aesthetics but to play with exactly that. 

— Since the theatre has a narrow, fully glassed entrance, leading into a corridor which is almost like a tunnel, we wanted the first impression to be that of a diorama, like a miniature house but in full scale. For show nights, staff greet people from the balcony, adding character and drama to the space. We made the back part of the floor level and the mezzanine above it pop in bright blue and peach colors, contrasting the brown, cork clad entrance corridor. The use of color coordinated curtains further enhance this expression of a diorama.

— Since the floor plan is a merge of several spaces with many different previous purposes, we have had to be careful in what could be kept and what had to be changed. It was an absolute must to us to keep the cylindrical brewery tank room, adding a splash of art in the ceiling. We decided to keep the mezzanine in the entrance part, but opened up, to make it more visible. Bathrooms and kitchens in the public parts of the space have been kept in their original positions, and wherever possible we kept the original tiles. While some of the furniture are custom made, we have actively chosen to buy chairs and other pieces from vintage dealers. The chairs used in the make up rooms are a Swedish classic, the concert hall chair by Sven Markelius, originally drawn for the 1920 concert hall in Stockholm.

What are your feelings about the final design?

— You can be sure to walk out inspired and fulfilled after attending a show, says Wahlberg. We feel that we captured this contemporary and experimental essence also in the interior and design of the space, whilst allowing the space to change completely depending on the current show.

What’s next for you now?

— Last year we designed two public art installations, one that was installed just before the holidays and one that we are installing this spring,a big wall piece in ceramic and glass, which is an art installation for a health centre. The piece goes right next to the swimming pool. We would love to do more of those kinds of projects — art installations are the perfect match for interior and product design and small-scale production.

— Sustainability continues to be the most important topic and something that we love to work with. At the end of 2023, we started a new collaboration focused on sustainable products, we will release a series of products during the spring. Since we are producing new objects, we have to be very thoughtful in all our choices throughout the process. We love to be at the factory and we are always researching materials and production techniques. We are also careful not to overproduce but to get the batches just right. The industry has to step up when it comes to sustainability, on all levels, from legislation to a product’s whole lifecycle. But not only that, there is also a huge need to balance the artistic expression — not to compromise — and the financials, when materials and energy come at a higher cost.

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