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Spatial Relations between the Theatre and Its Surroundings: An Assessment Protocol on the Example of Warsaw (Poland)

Agnieszka Starzyk
Kinga Rybak-Niedziółka
Janusz Marchwiński
Ewa Rykała
3 and
Elena Lucchi
Institute of Civil Engineering, Warsaw University Life Sciences, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland
Faculty of Architecture, University of Ecology and Management in Warsaw, 00-792 Warsaw, Poland
Institute of Environmental Engineering, Warsaw University Life Sciences, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland
Department of Architecture, Built Environment and Construction Engineering (DABC), Politecnico di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Land 2023, 12(6), 1225;
Submission received: 17 April 2023 / Revised: 2 June 2023 / Accepted: 9 June 2023 / Published: 13 June 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Public Spaces: Socioeconomic Challenges)


Theater as a place, but also as a field of human and team activity involving the creation of performances performed in the presence of the viewer, has a centuries-old history. This study aims at examining the links between theatre architecture/space and public spaces, trying to answer to what extent these objects have become attractors in its space and how they affect the activity of cultural and social life. The subjects of the study are Warsaw theatres, both historical and contemporary, in the context of their impact on the surrounding public spaces. A specific methodology was elaborated to evaluate potential impacts. According to the spatial relations between the theatre and its surroundings, they are clustered in the following typologies: emanation, isolation, and interference theatre. The research methods applied for defining and solving the scientific problem are: (i) critical analysis, (ii) comparative analysis, (iii) observation without intervention, and (iv) intuitive method based on the author’s personal experience. The conclusions are based on empirical research, with particular emphasis on the research material obtained by field research. The results of the research allow one to draw conclusions regarding the influence of theatrical places on public spaces in the city structure. The mission of the theater is changed, activating events and building social bonds. Theater space and its surroundings are shaped in accordance with these new standards and social expectations to be transformed into a public space of a cultural nature. Thus, presently, urban theatrical space is a site for spectacle, with a social and cultural mission. Theater space and its surroundings should be shaped in accordance with changing standards and social expectations, and it should be a public space of a cultural nature.

1. Introduction

Cityscape experiences involve multisensorial and dynamic paths through the space. Space gains meaning only when places decorated by humans appear in it [1]. It is characterized by accessibility for the local community and newcomers, the life of the city is visible here, and there are symbols and the most important social, service, and cultural facilities [2]. Human paths are based on empirical and reiterated interactions between humans and urban and architectural environments that involve sensory, emotional, and personal reactions. The spatial relation between humans and architecture is deeply studied in the History of Architecture. For example, Le Corbusier emphasized the role of architecture in celebrating the movements of the human body [3]. His theory of “architectural promenade” classified architecture as “dead” or “living” in function in terms of the presence or absence of sequential movement (that can be ignored or vividly observed) [4]. Several other theories have been developed starting from these ideas [5]. For example, Giedion described space while moving through it; in his opinion, it cannot be experienced from a single position but only from primary experiential activities [6]. Similarly, Eisenman discovered the existence of two experiential times: narrative and durational time, which represent, respectively, the perceived and real times of an experience [7]. In the first case, human interactions and experience have an important role in understanding the space.
Human interactions within urban spaces are profoundly treated also by anthropology and the sociology of architecture. One of the most famous classifications is given by cultural anthropology, which divided urban spaces into “places” and “non-places”. A “place” is assimilable, marked, and conveys certain values. It is characterized by a clear link between spaces, surroundings, and individuals. Here, people have «(…) a space that empowers their identity, where they can meet other people with whom they share social references» [8] (p. 77). Examples of “places” are historic cities, houses, and cultural buildings. Otherwise, a “non-place” is a neologism introduced by Augè for “spaces of transience” «(…) that cannot be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity» [8] (p. 78). They are generated by the “supermodernity”, an intensification of modernity due to factual (or time acceleration) and spatial (or abolishing of distance due to media and transportation) overabundance as well as to the excess of self-reflexive individuality [9]. According to this definition, the substantial difference among them refers to the social relations between spaces. “Places” create a strong social and spatial relationship between people, while “non-places” are emotionally a nobody’s space characterized by “solitary contractuality” without any face-to-face social relation. They are also linked only to modernity, without any connection with the history of the original space. Examples reported by Augè of “non-places” are airports, railway stations, motorways, supermarkets, shopping malls, outlets, hotels, resorts, theme parks, multi-functional buildings, and toll roads [8]. “Places” and “non-places” are “opposed polarities” [8] (p. 79) because the first ones are never completely erased by the second ones that are never totally completed. The idea of “non-places” has several applications in architecture. For example, it is linked with the concept of “junk space” defined by Koolhaas as «(…) what remains after modernization; (…) the body double of space, a territory of impaired vision, limited expectation, reduced earnestness» [10] (p. 176). They have inevitability changed the image and the essence of contemporary cities, causing a disappearance of original meanings [10] (p. 177). Examples are airports, shopping malls, department stores, hotels, hospitals, theme parks, office buildings, and sports stadiums.
Another important aspect of spatial relations is related to the presence of people. There is no place without people. Thus, the identity of a contemporary space is a set of features of both spatial forms and manifestations of life, and the identity of a place is subject to interpretation [11]. In this view, the perception of “places”, “non-places”, or “junk space” is strictly subjective as people can interpret any location as a crossroads of human relations or as an alienation space [12]. Furthermore, human interpretations are affected by affective explorations, perceptions, and cognitions of the space activated by emotions [13]. Memory and imagination are in constant interaction. A participant in space experiences deals with many senses, the basic ones being sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Thus, a cityscape is a dynamic image with sound and smell, which only together affect the atmosphere of the place. These senses convey information subjected to intellectual analysis in the context of life experiences, hence it can be concluded that each participant perceives the same space differently, and everyone remembers it differently. Therefore, urban and architectural design requires a deep study of the relationship between humans and their environmental stimuli to create well-being environments [14]. Good spaces are experienced with all senses. A multi-faceted analysis of the senses in the design process can bring about the effect of conscious management of emotions of future users of space [15].
The sensory perception of a place, perceived and interpreted to understand the environment, is analyzed in two cognitive areas: those related to intelligence and those related to imagination. Scientific advances in architectural experience perception concern the approaches of “neuroarchitecture” [16,17] and “neuroaesthetics” [18,19] that try to clarify the neural substrata of aesthetic responses. These approaches are currently used synonymously with “emotional design” [20] or “cognitive-emotional design” [21], but their difference refers to the objects of study: urban areas and buildings in the first case, and all design forms in the second case (e.g., devices, furniture, jewelry, buildings) [14]. Although subjective indicators are fundamental elements for individuals’ spatial experiences, it is proved that the human body responds to surrounding stimuli before a conscious interpretation of emotions and perceptions [22]. Visual perception of the context is the primary form of space interpretation [23], as it is estimated that vision is responsible for 80–85% of the information we have on the world [24]. Visual perception is sensitive to spatial relations of shapes, dimensions, distances, colors, orientations, and movements [24]. Then, other sensations play a role of 15–20%. Visual dominance is natural, but multi-sensory perception is more effective. Despite this, many theories on spatial and architectural planning deal only with the analysis of visual impact. Visibility analysis is most widely practiced in urban planning [25,26] through multiple [27] and cumulative viewsheds [28], which, respectively, combine and overlap different spatial images. Visibility mapping is also used for determining the attractivity of a cityscape through the visualization of dominant landmarks [29]. Recently, the role of soundscapes in the attractivity of urban planning has also been analyzed [30]. More in general, the quality and attractiveness of these spaces are determined by their impact in accordance with the need and function, interaction with its participant, and the identity of the place [31].
Inside spaces, an increasingly common phenomenon is the emergence of hybrid cultural spaces, open to various activities as well as to users with diverse and often opposing needs. Multifunction can create conflicts between different elements, effects, plans, and performed functions [32]. Conflict is a natural phenomenon: it results from conflicting interests and expectations of users or decision-makers toward the same space. Moreover, thanks to their inextricable link to creativity, they can become a catalyst for the revitalization of a wider urban context [33]. Regenerative design is normally used to address new challenges related to environmental preservation, social engagement, human well-being, and economic development [15], as well as to solve negative impacts related to urban sprawl, touristic pressure, building abandonment, and climate changes [34]. Revitalization is not a new activity; it accompanies the process of shaping cities from the beginning of their existence. It has a significant impact on the development of civilization and updates functional and spatial standards [35]. One cannot talk about revitalization without adding value to what exists [14]. Thus, these apparently friendly spaces can minimize interpersonal conflicts with constructive dialogue, ultimately leading to generally positive solutions. Inside spaces, public spaces are multifunctional components of the urban structure. They have a physical dimension (private or public property) and a social dimension (activities and events) that are interdependent [36]. The high quality of public space gives the opportunity to create a higher level of social relations, «(…) it also ensures the cultural identity of the place, being an important element of the inhabitants’ identification with the city» [36] (p. 12–13).
In this context, the study of the spatial relations between hybrid cultural spaces and their surroundings is important to understand their identity, the presence of conflicts, the sensory perception, and their role as catalysts or not. This type of study is low diffuse in urban planning, due to the subjectivity of evaluation as well as to the long time required by the analysis. To overcome this gap, this study aims at defining the links between theatre architecture/space and public spaces, to examine to what extent these objects have become attractors in its space, and how they affect the activity of cultural and social life. The focus is on architecture theaters that collect several aspects related to other cultural spaces, such as space attractor functions, cultural identity representativeness, and cultural expressions. Despite this, the spatial relations between the theatre and its surroundings are not studied.

2. Background

Among different hybrid cultural spaces, theaters have a distinct role linked to their complex functional and technological structure, urban, social, and even ideological function [37]. Theaters were selected as they are representative of several elements that have an impact on spatial relations and human interaction at urban and architectural levels. Architectural theaters can «(…) simultaneously denominates theatrical art, the place where the performances are held, and the social act of attending the performance» [31]. First, theatrical space concerns both the theater building and its surroundings. They are architectural places, divided into interior and exterior environments that have a clear influence on the shape of public spaces, surroundings, and urban attractiveness. Second, their entire area is defined by the performance space (also called “viewer plus performer”). They are a medium for experiencing an event, as well as for creating human interaction between space, people, and emotions. They also have a political, cultural, and economic role in urban development, as they represent a historic period, with the expression of specific architectural and urban features, public representations, and urban expressions. From the semiological perspective, they are symbolic “representational spaces” according to their representation of space in the social practice or in the artistic dimension [38].
Relationships between the theater and its surroundings may be different, depending on the adopted artistic vision. The building is usually the border between the real and unreal worlds, and the environment is one of the stages of experiencing the entrance from the real space into the fictional space, but also the exit from the fictional space. It is a buffer between the real world and the unreal world, the world of theatrical experiences. Additionally, site-specific, relational, and peripatetic performances have changed conventional theatre architecture, creating performance spaces where spectators are relocated and reoriented in relation to the surroundings [39]. The mission of theaters changed significantly over the years, from the ancient Greek theater to the contemporary IMAX and multi-space theaters. Presently, theaters are characterized by multi-functions for hosting multiple events [37]. In this way, they represent together “places” and “non-places”. Such modifications also affect their surroundings, which change according to architectural programs, performances, and social interactions. These modifications also affect public spaces that can interact, but that can also remain isolated. Connections with theater architecture and urban plan or their lack may be the result of an intended action in a given space, but they can also be an unplanned effect.
To adequately understand the role of the space of theatres, it is vital to delineate their concept and development. Theatre space has undergone several changes over time, related to different aesthetic theories and historical periods. In the origin, classical theaters were wide open-air theater stages composed of the proscenium, and the curtain (Greek and Roman theaters) [38]. The earliest Greek theatres were built as open-air end-stage theaters around a central market square (agora), using wooden stands for straight-line seats (ikria) to be easily removed. From the urban point of view, this design was supported by a hillside. This model was used for a long-time during the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods, sometimes changing out the wooden structure for a stone structure. From the 5th century, U-shape stages were added to rectangular or round stages, to create space for the scenery and the orchestra (logeion or proscenia). Sometimes, the presence of a porch improved the monumentality of the architectural design. This shape was confirmed also during the Renaissance period, where arose the use of existing buildings, halls, and hospitals for hosting theaters. The real innovation referred not to the building itself but the scenery, thanks to the use of the perspective that aimed at re-creating the classical scaenae using semicircular amphitheaters. This conformation changed only in the 16th century with the circular Elizabethan playhouses, where courtyards and domestic areas were used for dramatic representations. The use of automatic sceneries from the Baroque period also had an impact on backstage space, introducing new shapes such as horseshoe, bell, elliptic, also thanks to their acoustical properties. After that, theaters are divided into open-air or fully enclosed spaces. A simplistic categorization individualizes four basic forms [40]: (i) “arena stage theatres” with a central stage, also known as “theatre-in-the-round” although the stages can be round, square, oval, octagonal, or irregular (e.g., Greek and Roman amphitheaters); (ii) “open stage theatres” that eliminated the curtain space to dissolve the scenic illusion between spectators and actors to favor their communicational flux (e.g., Théâtre Libre, avantgarde theaters, or contemporary “site-specific performances” theaters); (iii) “end-stage theatres” with stage and proscenium on only one side (e.g., proscenium or Italian style theater); and (iv) “flexible stage theatres” with the stage that changes according to the representation. Inside the latter category, the street theater uses unconventional spaces, such as open areas, railway stations, offices, and unused buildings to display the theatrical performance according to the idea of transparency in the artistic process [38]. Theater buildings follow this internal shape, adding several services for the audience, such as offices for administration, and touristic purposes, facilities for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and services for cleaning and maintenance [40]. The 20th-century theaters completely changed this linear history of design. New ideas were developed, from the recreation of Greek theatres inspired by archaeological excavations (e.g., “total theatre” of Walter Gropius) or Elizabethan theatres (e.g., the open-air Old Globe Theatre in San Diego) to the creation of adaptable spaces or the use of several different design styles. In this context, urban surroundings are influenced by building features, that also change urban configuration and planning. In general, their location depends on land availability, central position, economic factors, or the presence of infrastructures, but in many cases, the presence of the theater influences spatial relations at the urban level. This aspect was not addressed by the literature, creating a gap in the study of the spatial relationships between the theatre and its surroundings.

3. Materials and Methods

Space is a place of interaction, a creative place, going beyond the paradigm of urban engineering in urban planning. There is a growing awareness of the need to combine hard infrastructure with soft infrastructure, to create places for more or less formal meetings, and the flow of ideas and ideas [32]. A key role in the process of generating a creative environment is played by the place scenery [33,37]. The assets/resources of a place can be: (i) hard, tangible or soft, intangible; (ii) real and visible or symbolic and invisible; and (iii) quantifiable and measurable or related to ideas and concepts [39,41]. In the past, the importance of hard infrastructure was definitely greater, now, the share of soft infrastructure in planning analyses is increasing, with its most important areas being iconicity, environmental awareness, artistic perspective, atmosphere and experience, richness of associations and image creation, cultural depth, networking opportunities, and language and communication skills [42]. This study refers to the European idea of theaters, not theaters in general terms.
According to the Central Statistical Office, in 2022, theaters and music institutions in Poland staged a total of 53,000. performances and concerts that were watched and listened to by 9.3 million people. This included 771 premieres (Figure 1). Theaters and music institutions had 5000 songs in their repertoire titles of shows and concerts [43,44].
A total of 208 theaters and music institutions conducted stage activities, including 182 with their own artistic ensemble. The largest number of theaters and musical institutions with their own artistic ensembles operated in the voivodeship Mazowieckie (42), Małopolskie (28 and Śląskie (23), and the least in the Lubuskie, Opolskie, Podkarpackie, and Świętokrzyskie voivodeships (4 each). A total of 53,000 shows were staged on 359 stages in Poland (performances/concerts). Of theaters and musical institutions, 82.7% belonged to the public sector (Figure 2). Local government units were the organizers for 93.0% of public entities [43,44].
In Poland, drama theaters predominate, constituting 45% of all facilities. It should be noted that, apart from their formal statute, they also perform additional functions related to various cultural, social, and political events (Figure 3).
The territorial scope of the research, as a result of preliminary analyses of the problem, was narrowed down to the area of Warsaw. Focusing on a dozen/several dozens of objects from all over Poland could lead to the selection of an unrepresentative or, on the contrary, representative (with the assumed thesis) group of objects. On the other hand, focusing research attention on a seemingly small but, as preliminary research has shown, representative area, there is a lower probability of omission and a lower probability of research error. A larger percentage group surveyed from a given area, according to the analyses, contains various types of solutions, which is the key criterion for its selection. In addition, Warsaw is the city where the first independent theaters in Poland were realized in the 18th century, and today there is the largest number of them in comparison to other Polish cities.
The first independent theater buildings in Warsaw date back to the 18th century. During the Enlightenment, intellectual and political elites needed a place to convey their ideas, and public theater became their forum. In the preceding period, two theatrical trends were clearly visible—the court theater and the school theater—which gave rise to public theaters [45]. August II probably built a separate theater building in Warsaw as early as 1724, but there is no certain information on this subject. The first documented free-standing public theater (Opernhauz) was built here in the times of August III in 1748, on the corner of today’s Marszałkowska and Królewska Streets in the corner of the Saski Garden (Figure 4), from around 1760 it was called the Opera House by Varsovians [46].
This theater initiated the 270-year history of theater facilities in Warsaw. Some of them have survived to this day, some remain in historical materials. Currently, operating theaters in Warsaw are run by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Mazowieckie Voivodeship, the Capital City of Warsaw, jointly by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Capital City of Warsaw, private individuals/institutions (Figure 5). For research purposes, the forms of ownership/management were not differentiated, and preliminary research did not show a significant impact of this factor on the problem posed in this way [45,47].
Moving on to the study of the links between architecture/theater spaces and public spaces, the first step was to analyze the location of theaters in the city structure. A total of 26 theater places in Downtown Warsaw were examined. Due to the density on the map of Warsaw, they were grouped/marked together (Figure 6).
In the remaining districts of the left bank, the problem of theater spaces was examined: 2 in the Mokotów District, 2 in the Ochota District, 1 in the Wola District, 1 in the Żoliborz District, and 1 in the Bielany District. Four links between theater venues and the surroundings of right-bank Warsaw were also examined. The author’s research shows that these are all currently operating theaters of the Capital City (Figure 7).
On the basis of preliminary research, a research problem was established and justified, along with the indicated territorial and thematic scope. Then, the research methods described below, used to achieve the assumed goal, as well as the concept and research plan, were defined. The research methods necessary to define and solve the scientific problem were used: the method of critical analysis, the method of comparative analysis, and the method of observation without intervention. The conclusions were based on empirical research, with particular emphasis on the research material obtained by field research. The research was carried out in the following stages: (i) analysis of the diagnosed research problem, critique of the problem in the light of previous research; (ii) literature studies aimed at clarifying research instructions; (iii) defining the research methodology and tools; (iv) carrying out quantitative research, carrying out preliminary field research, preliminary recognition; (v) carrying out field research, collecting documentation, preparing descriptive and photographic documentation; (vi) classification of research material; (vii) development of materials collected during research and their synthesis; (viii) preparation of preliminary research results, critical evaluation of the course of own research and written elaboration of the results; (ix) elaboration of the final research results.
The paper is structured in two parts:
  • Evaluation methodology that presents the theoretical method and its application to Warsaw’s theaters.
  • A discussion that describes the spatial relations between the theater and its surroundings, showing all three accepted types in Warsaw and showing the replicability of the method in other contexts.

4. Evaluation Methodology

According to the spatial relations between the theatre and its surroundings, theaters can be clustered into the following three typologies, according to Magdalena Kozień-Woźniak’s definition [46] (Figure 8):
  • Theaters of emanation” where the theatrical place is a public space surrounded and limited by the theater building. They are based on the 19th-century concept of theater and are usually a symbol of culture, with a strong form, a clear sign, and an unambiguous identification of a place and a space.
  • Theaters of isolation” where the theatrical place is a building with or without a minimal relationship with the environment. Thus, they do not have any impact on the environment.
  • Theaters of interference” where the theatrical place is an external public space incorporated into the building itself and its surroundings. They have different building boundaries from emanation and isolation, consisting of the penetration of the inside by the outside in a strong mutual interaction. They have a mutual interaction between the theatre space and the environment.
These definitions are applied to Warsaw’s theaters to understand the relationship between theater and their surroundings, discovering their impact and attractivity in urban shapes.

5. Application of the Evaluation Methodology on Warsaw’s Theaters

The connections were analyzed according to the previously adopted and discussed criteria of division into theaters of emanation, isolation, and interference (Section 3). The research in Warsaw showed all three types, as well as combinations of the theater of emanation/interference and the theater of isolation/interference (Figure 9).
The results of the research have been grouped into three tables: (1) theaters of the Śródmieście district, (2) theaters of left-bank Warsaw (outside the city), (3) theaters of right-bank Warsaw. A synthesis of the impact analysis is reported below (Table 1).
Most of the theater venues studied are not associated with friendly spaces of a cultural nature. Referring to the analysis in the theoretical part of the study, it should be stated that there is a conflict between the potential of places and social expectations, and the functions currently performed. An example here may be Theater Square, which, in 2016, was covered with various greenery and rest areas for three days, becoming a friendly space, a recreation space in conjunction with the Grand Theater and the National Theater (Figure 10). This three-day arrangement did not exhaust the features of a cultural space, but it can be assumed that it indicated the right direction of corrective action/revitalization.
In most of the analyzed theater locations, the potential of the environment is not sufficiently used. Theaters are objects of high culture and as such should be attractors of space, attracting the participants of space within their area of activity. Theatrical venues, understood as space attractors, include participants who are not always focused on theatrical activities and generally affect the activity of cultural and social life. The analyses show that this is a problem that needs to be solved in the context of Warsaw theater venues. A positive example is the Nowy Teatr, where the main domain is theater, but there are also various artistic and social activities. The theater venue is open/available from early morning until late at night, attracting a diverse range of participants. A friendly space is conducive to creative activities. According to the authors, theater venues, depending on expectations, needs, but also possibilities, should build diverse space–user relationships. It should be noted here that the user reacts to the space, but the space also reacts to the user.

6. Discussion

Buildings with special functions are part of the spatial identification system in urban structures [33]. Theaters, due to their unique cultural and social value, require appropriate exposure in space and often an individual architectural form [41,45]. Due to the type of activity and artistic profile, but also taking into account their physical scale, the placemaking of these objects is diverse, as indicated in the article. Depending on the adopted relationship with space, the above-mentioned types of buildings with their entrance zones may have greater or lesser exposure in the city landscape [43]. It is related to the profile and activity of a particular facility, as well as its social and spatial impact on the urban structure [44]. The most important theaters of national importance will be located differently from less formal buildings with a more discreet, often local, or very original repertoire [46]. The former, often distinguished by their architectural form, have a much larger scale in relation to the surrounding urban structure. In many cases, they are landmarks in the city landscape [45,47]. These are objects strongly exposed in public spaces, corresponding to the type of emanations—theater subordinating the surrounding space, with a strongly marked entrance zone in the form of a separate square or closing a street important for the city [48]. Most often, they are strong elements of the urban composition of great placemaking importance, both because of their form and social value [49,50]. It is worth paying attention to most of these types of objects since they are historical and are part of an established urban structure often associated with earlier monumentalism and radicalism in urban planning [51].
The described theater facilities classified as interference fit into a broader trend of combining private and public spaces described as privately owned public spaces (POPS), which are a way to fragment city centers [52]. The idea of POPS is part of the broader social and economic benefits associated with expanding the urban fabric in particularly dense parts of cities [53]. Opening up spaces serves to improve social relations and increase the economic development opportunities of portions of the development that were previously cut off and obscured mainly by increasing security and thus accessibility to these parts of the city [54,55]. Interference theaters, mainly through performance-type activities and street performances, cause a partial or complete transition from semi-private space to fully public space. In this way, they participate in the process of greater social inclusion and expanding inclusivity in cities [56]. The potential for the emergence of POPS involving theaters and their activities, among other things, influences a better appreciation of cities and the public spaces that occur in them by restoring previously inaccessible spaces to the social and economic mainstream [57,58]. In Warsaw, an example of implementing the idea of POPs is the design of the Ochota Theatre, made by Janusz Marchwiński, which fits in with its function and form in this type of space transformation (Figure 11).
Isolation theatres are a social rather than a spatial phenomenon. By design, they are somewhat hidden, discreet facilities, often created to meet the needs of local communities. What is important is their significance, often related to the tradition and history of a particular part of the city [59]. Often these types of venues have an experimental dimension, going beyond the framework of traditional theater, and are occasionally linked to a broader spectrum of social phenomena more visible in the space, such as various street festivals [60]. It is worth noting that the social awareness of their location, even if not very visible in the urban structure, participates in creating the value of the space, while building its identity and recognition. Thus, isolation theaters influence the creation of places and support their potential by contributing symbolic, artistic, social, and often economic and historical values [61,62].
Public spaces associated with Warsaw theater venues mostly require remedial action. It can be assumed that, in general, the problem is defined by both policymakers and growing social movements [63]. Point-based actions are taken; however, according to the conducted research, they are not sufficient [64,65]. Moreover, it is not about changing spatial relations (emanations, isolation, interference) because each of them carries different values appropriate for the assumed goal [66,67]. The potential of a place is inextricably linked to the potential of people. In all seven cases classified as theatrical interference places, the man and his involvement in the broadly understood cultural space is very important [68]. Man shapes hard resources but also has a significant impact on soft resources [69,70].
It is worth noting that theaters are changing their social function in the city [71]. They have ceased to be divided into those more elitist, accessible to a few and those with a repertoire intended for the mass audience. Even opera houses are becoming inclusive, and contemporary art increasingly transcends the architectural framework of theaters [72]. From the point of view of space, theater is more than a building. It performs an important social function, seamlessly connecting with the space. The study presented in the article shows how this trend works in the example of a large and diverse city in terms of theater types [73]. The role of such objects goes beyond their original function, which affects the use and visual and social perception of urban space [74].

7. Conclusions

The study presents a methodology for assessing the relations between theaters and their surroundings. After drawing up a background on the relation between people and theaters (Section 1), and on the history of theater design (Section 2), the aims and the methods of the study are defined (Section 3). Then, the methodology is set up (Section 4), starting from Magdalena Kozień-Woźniak’s definition [46] of the urban relations between theaters and surroundings. According to this, these relations are divided into: (i) “theaters of emanation” where the urban space is limited by the building theater; (ii) “theaters of isolation” without or with a minimal relationship with the building and the environment; and (iii) “theaters of interference” where the building theater is incorporated into the public space. These definitions are applied to Warsaw’s theaters (Section 5) and are deeply discussed (Section 5).
Based on the analysis of the problem, general conclusions regarding the shaping of contemporary theater venues can be drawn:
  • The mission of the theater is changing, gathering, and activating events, and building social bonds is becoming an integral element.
  • Theater space and its surroundings should be shaped in accordance with changing standards and social expectations.
  • The surrounding space should be a public space of a cultural nature.
  • Urban theatrical space is a site for the spectacle, with a social and cultural mission.
  • Urban theatrical spaces are a platform for acquiring and at the same time exchanging experiences, thus fostering communication and social interaction.
  • Designing theatrical spaces is a certain philosophy and process involving the co-creation of space by the community and changing the system in line with the sustainable development of the place, similar to public spaces [75].
A contemporary theater venue (the theater and its surroundings) is a multifunctional venue with dominant cultural features. The main, but not the only, user of the theatrical space is the recipient of the theatrical performance. To effectively implement the assumed goals and tasks of the theatre, it is necessary to create an aesthetic and well-functioning space, both internal and external. Theater is an institution occupying a specific space where the meeting of the spectator and the actor takes place, playing different roles, but participating in one event. The research work was aimed at gaining new knowledge in the field of expectations of all users, and as a result, gaining new knowledge in the field of shaping contemporary theater places. An important premise for undertaking the research was the observation that the previous scientific studies concerned mainly the needs of the viewer, thus the real needs of other users remain beyond scientific reflection. It seems that the problem is current and not exploited, and it was necessary to investigate it.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, A.S., K.R.-N., J.M., E.R. and E.L.; Methodology, A.S.; Formal analysis, A.S.; Investigation, A.S.; Writing—original draft preparation, A.S., K.R.-N., J.M. and E.L.; Writing—review and editing, A.S., E.R. and E.L.; Visualization, A.S., E.R. and E.L.; Supervision, A.S. and E.L.; Funding acquisition and Project administration, E.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

No data availability.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Number of theaters and music institutions in Poland in December 2022 (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
Figure 1. Number of theaters and music institutions in Poland in December 2022 (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
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Figure 2. Percentage breakdown of theaters in Poland (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
Figure 2. Percentage breakdown of theaters in Poland (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
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Figure 3. Percentage breakdown by types of theaters in Poland (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
Figure 3. Percentage breakdown by types of theaters in Poland (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on [43]).
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Figure 4. The location of the first documented free-standing theater in Warsaw is symbolically indicated by a stone (Source: Photo by Agnieszka Starzyk).
Figure 4. The location of the first documented free-standing theater in Warsaw is symbolically indicated by a stone (Source: Photo by Agnieszka Starzyk).
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Figure 5. Density of theaters according to their location in individual districts of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on GUS).
Figure 5. Density of theaters according to their location in individual districts of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors based on GUS).
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Figure 6. Location of the theaters in the city of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
Figure 6. Location of the theaters in the city of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
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Figure 7. The context of the place and relationship with the environment, example on the downtown of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
Figure 7. The context of the place and relationship with the environment, example on the downtown of Warsaw (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
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Figure 8. Basic division criteria: (a) theatre of emanation, (b) theatre of isolation, (c) theatre of interference (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
Figure 8. Basic division criteria: (a) theatre of emanation, (b) theatre of isolation, (c) theatre of interference (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
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Figure 9. Distribution of theaters of emanation, isolation, and interference in individual districts of Warsaw, based on own research (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
Figure 9. Distribution of theaters of emanation, isolation, and interference in individual districts of Warsaw, based on own research (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
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Figure 10. Theater Square: (a) three-day arrangement 2016—Theater Park, (b) everyday life—car park (Source: (a) (accessed on 23 April 2023), (b) Agnieszka Starzyk).
Figure 10. Theater Square: (a) three-day arrangement 2016—Theater Park, (b) everyday life—car park (Source: (a) (accessed on 23 April 2023), (b) Agnieszka Starzyk).
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Figure 11. Project of the Ochota Theatre (Source: Design of Janusz Marchwiński).
Figure 11. Project of the Ochota Theatre (Source: Design of Janusz Marchwiński).
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Table 1. Theaters of Warsaw: Impact on public space (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
Table 1. Theaters of Warsaw: Impact on public space (Source: Elaboration of the authors).
n.Name of the Theater ▪ DirectionTheater of
Downtown of Warsaw
1Teatr Komediowy ▪ Nowowiejska 1/3-
2Teatr 6. Pietro ▪ PKiN pl. Defilad 1--
3Teatr Ateneum im. Stefana Jaracza ▪ Jaracza 2-
4Teatr Buffo ▪ Konopnickiej 6-
5Teatr Capitol ▪ Marszałkowska 115--
6Teatr Collegium Nobilium ▪ Miodowa 22/24-
7Teatr Dramatyczny ▪ PKiN pl. Defilad 1--
8Teatr Imka ▪ Konopnickiej 6--
9Teatr Kamienica ▪ Al. Solidarności 93--
10Teatr Kwadrat ▪ Marszałkowska 138--
11Teatr Lalka ▪ PKiN pl. Defilad 1--
12Teatr Narodowy ▪ Pl. Teatralny 3 -
13Teatr Polonia ▪ Marszałkowska 56-
14Teatr Polski ▪ Karasia 2--
15Teatr Roma ▪ Nowogrodzka 49-
16Teatr Rozmaitości Warszawa ▪ Marszałkowska 8--
17Teatr Sabat ▪ Foksal 16--
18Teatr Stara Prochownia ▪ Boleść 2--
19Teatr Staromiejski ▪ Jezuicka 4--
20Teatr Studio ▪ PKiN pl. Defilad 1--
21Teatr Syrena ▪ Litewska 3-
22Teatr WarSawy ▪ Rynek Nowego Miasta 5/7-
23Teatr Wielki—Opera Narodowa ▪ Pl. Teatralny 1--
24Teatr Współczesny ▪ Mokotowska 13-
25Teatr Żydowski ▪ Senatorska 35--
26Warszawska Opera Kameralna ▪ Al. Solidarności 76B--
Mokotów District
27Nowy Teatr ▪ Madalińskiego 10/16--
28Teatr Lalek Guliwer ▪ Różana 16-
Ochota District
29Och-Teatr ▪ Grójecka 65-
30Teatr Ochoty ▪ Mikołaja Reja 9-
Wola District
31Scena na Woli im. T. Łomnickiego ▪ Kasprzaka 22--
Żoliborz District
32Teatr Komedia ▪ Słowackiego 19A--
Bielany District
33Mazowiecki Teatr Muzyczny ▪ Żeromskiego 29--
Praga South District
34Teatr Rampa ▪ Kołowa 20--
35Teatr Baj ▪ Jagiellońska 28--
36Teatr Powszechny im. Z. Hubnera ▪ Zamoyskiego 20--
37Studio Teatralne/Teatr Niewielki ▪ Soho Factory Mińska 25-
(a) = Theater of emanations, (b) = Theoter of isolation, (c) = Theater of interference. ■ = Presence, - = Absence.
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Starzyk, A.; Rybak-Niedziółka, K.; Marchwiński, J.; Rykała, E.; Lucchi, E. Spatial Relations between the Theatre and Its Surroundings: An Assessment Protocol on the Example of Warsaw (Poland). Land 2023, 12, 1225.

AMA Style

Starzyk A, Rybak-Niedziółka K, Marchwiński J, Rykała E, Lucchi E. Spatial Relations between the Theatre and Its Surroundings: An Assessment Protocol on the Example of Warsaw (Poland). Land. 2023; 12(6):1225.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Starzyk, Agnieszka, Kinga Rybak-Niedziółka, Janusz Marchwiński, Ewa Rykała, and Elena Lucchi. 2023. "Spatial Relations between the Theatre and Its Surroundings: An Assessment Protocol on the Example of Warsaw (Poland)" Land 12, no. 6: 1225.

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