Industrial yet theatrical: The Bâtiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva


How very fortunate a coincidence that, in 1994, the management of Geneva’s Grand Théâtre were looking for an alternative venue to which to outsource their cultural performances set for the 1997/1998 season: Modernisation of their theatre was imminent and a worthy substitute location desperately needed. A magnificent structure, listed since the late 1980s and dramatically squatting above the River Rhône, seemed the ideal candidate: The Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, originally built by the engineer and politician Théodore Turrettini for industrial purposes in the outgoing 19th century, served as Geneva’s first hydro-electric power plant. It had provided the city with water and electricity until its decommission in the 1960s and had been lying dormant since.

Kissing it alive, restoring and converting it into a working thousand-seater theatre proved an ambitious financial challenge requiring solid funds difficult to raise – and it was a generous philanthropist who, in the end, had made the expansive transformation possible. Technically, constraints were multifold: Limited width and height and the lack of daylight gave architects a thorough headache. Result was a stage of extreme depth and an orchestra pit that could be lifted or lowered upon demand. Clad in wood for acoustic reasons plus to compensate for the implications caused by the structural singularity, the auditorium Salle Théodore Turrettini today seats 801 in the stalls and 144 in the dress circle.

BFM: Performances! Concerts! Events!

The Bâtiment des Forces Motrices provide ample space for whatever needs to be accommodated.

The Bâtiment des Forces Motrices provides ample space for whatever needs to be accommodated…

Lots of space for individual deco.

… or created.

After completion in 1997, and as destined, the new old venue could be implemented for the full range of Grand Théâtre-productions during the refurbishment phase of their home-site, and today makes a splendid location for events, plays or concerts. Vamped up, its – or her? – industrial charms turn into that of a diva, full of character yet versatile, enhanced by technical details reminiscent of the building’s impressive history.

Geneva-based are familiar with the specialties of the MICE venue BFM and happy to share their experience with clients interested in this location. Their website is currently under construction, but links with the relevant contact.

The multi-purpose public area facing the Place des Volontaires, is now used for receptions, events or exhibitions. Its original appearance was left unchanged for authenticity and in order to enable decorations according to customer’s individual needs. The massive pumps still bearing witness to the edifice’s industrial past are a free treat for lovers of truly solitary venues such as the BFM.

... some of the original macherinery is still there  ...

Some of the original machinery is still giving a confident appearance.

Facing city and lake, the front rooftop is elaborately decorated with statues of Neptune, Ceres and Mercury.

Facing city and lake, the front rooftop is elaborately decorated with statues of Neptune, Ceres and Mercury.

Bâtiment des Forces Motrices during construction.

The end of the 19th centruy: Site of the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices to-be.

Photo credits:
Header image courtesy of Genève Tourisme. Copyright: ©David Clifford.
All other images made available and copyright by ©BFM.