What do the German cities of Kassel and Leipzig have in common?
In the early 1950s, both cities held architectural competitions to see who could design the best new modern opera house. Both of these competitions were won by architect Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) — but neither of his proposed buildings was actually built.
Leipzig at least had a good excuse. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was still alive at the time, and nobody in the Soviet sphere of influence was willing to risk his wrath by building something they knew he would disapprove of.
But Kassel had no such excuse. It was safely located on the west side of the border, and there was no dictator to tell them what not to do. They were perfectly free to build an outstanding new opera house according to Scharoun’s plans.
They actually did start building Scharoun’s opera house in October 1954, but stopped shortly thereafter (for reasons that are hard to fathom at this late date) and put up a mediocre substitute building instead. This one was opened in 1959 and was used for 45 years until 2004, when it had to be closed for safety and technical reasons. When I took these photos in 2005 it was a construction site, and the city’s opera performances were being held in a large, colorful tent.
To get an idea of the sort of buildings Hans Scharoun was designing in the 1950s, take a tour of his magnificent Philharmonie concert hall in Berlin.
An animation, showing what Scharoun’s proposed opera house in Kassel might have looked like, can be seen here (video without any sound).
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2021.