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La Scala, So Many Challenges

scala construction 2

The La Scala property was bought by Mélanie and Frédéric in 2016 but their search for a theatre site goes back much further. Frédéric is a well known independent producer of shows, from theatre to dance to new circus. In so doing he has at times been frustrated by always needing to find the right theatre for each production.

He had been aware of the old La Scala site as far back as 2010 but faced a similar problem that other potential alternative public uses found, the need for emergency exits. Over the years the thought had been to use the historic emergency exit from a century ago. However the site was now surrounded by three buildings with more than 80 co-owners to negotiate access with. This proved to be too much of a challenge for potential buyers. When it came onto the market again in 2015 Frederic and his consultants took a fresh approach to the emergency exit question and found another option through the adjoining building. And so a dream started to become a realistic option although many other challenges still needed to be faced.

What followed were several years of raising finance and, obtaining planning consents. The property cost $3.8 million euros and the total costs are well above that, thought to be around 19 million euro. It is a private venture. It has been financed half by the couple, and the other half borrowed from banks. Mélanie Biessy runs a private equity firm, an advantage most arts promoters would not have.

And then there was the reality of what they had actually bought. There was very little left of its theatre history. It simply had to be stripped back to a large room and then planned from there. The only occupants for 15 years had been local pigeons. Indeed a falconer was employed to release his raptors to dislodge the innumerable pigeons. In some ways the lack of infrastructure or form gave a freedom for the architects and the Biessy team to create the theatre they actually wanted. Additional flexibility was obtained by also digging down a further six metres to also provide space for workshop and rehearsal spaces. The complexity of such matters should not however be trivialised . The only entry and exit for all machinery, the removal of all spoil and the bringing in of all materials was the width of one shop front. The planning involved was complex but in the end the challenges the site presented created fresh and innovative thinking, shaping the whole project into something unique. More than a theatre, a centre for people to enjoy the arts.

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