The historic Opernhaus Zürich and the adjoining extension building will need to be renovated in the first half of the 2030s, and the planning phase for this project has begun. The goal of the project is to resolve underlying deficiencies so that the Opernhaus can continue to fulfill its mission as enshrined in the Opernhausgesetz (Opernhaus Act) – and continue to strive for «artistic accomplishment of outstanding quality and international appeal» as well as «communication of its offerings to broad sections of the public».
Consistent, high-quality maintenance has helped keep the existing main structure in good shape. However, the seating and technical equipment are starting to age, and barrier-free entry to all event venues needs to be created. The adjoining extension building, constructed in 1984, holds rehearsal stages, ballet halls, workshops, dressing rooms, offices, and the integrated Bernhard Theater, as well as the backstage area of the historic Opernhaus. This extension building has serious flaws. According to a study conducted by Kunkel Consulting, which specializes in theater planning, the Opernhaus Zürich requires 60% more space. This lack of space is felt everywhere, both in front of and behind the «red curtain».
Public areas are not accessible without restrictions and people with limited mobility are not able to attend events held on the Studiobühne due to a lack of escape routes. This is no longer acceptable. In addition, audience areas are to be updated and the foyers enlarged. The auditorium and historically protected foyers will remain unchanged in the process. One particular aim of the «Future Opera» project is to expand educational programs for all age groups. The current program falls far short of demand, and does not meet the needs of the house, of politics, and of society. Cultural education and participation through educational outreach programs are not just a mission of the Opernhaus Zürich: they are a matter dear to our hearts. The necessary space must be created to make this possible.
Occupational health and safety standards have been greatly expanded since the 1980s, and for good reason. But many workstations in the Opernhaus cannot meet these requirements. The space available to employees is cramped, and many rooms have unacceptable working conditions. For example, there are workplaces in the basement without daylight, legally required common rooms are missing, and, due to the lack of space, costume fittings sometimes take place in the hallway or in the foyers of the auditorium without any privacy. Equity laws provide for the integration of people with impairments, but not all the Opernhaus buildings are accessible without barriers. This needs to be remedied.
The delivery and storage of set pieces is the biggest shortcoming of the extension building. While comparable repertory houses can store sets for eight to ten productions at the venue, the Opernhaus is limited to one to two productions. The sets must be transported back and forth between the storage facility in Oerlikon and the Opernhaus on a daily basis, requiring a large number of staff. This is unecological, counterproductive from a traffic point of view, and operationally ineffective. Deliveries are made via the extension building on Falkenstrasse. There, trucks with large trailers maneuver on the sidewalk and on the street, endangering traffic. In some cases, valuable set pieces are exposed to the weather and vandalism overnight in the open air. The only solution is in-house delivery with additional storage space. This requires a fundamental reorganization of the extension building.
Short film from the series «What you always wanted to know about the Opernhaus, but were afraid to ask»
As part of the structural development, added value is to be created for a sustainable opera, for current and future visitors, for tourism, and as an urban location for everyday life for the city and its residents. Zurich as a cultural center should benefit from an additional laboratory stage in the Opernhaus, where new forms of music and dance theater will be developed, and where a cooperative working method with other cultural institutions will be established. In the upcoming dialogue process, the question of what an Opernhaus of the future is for Zurich will be investigated.