This month, arts and culture patrons in LA’s San Fernando Valley will finally get an alternative to schlepping downtown to find world-class performance. After more than three decades of determined effort, the new Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) at California State University Northridge (CSUN) officially opens on January 29.
Designed by Minneapolis-based HGA Architects & Engineers, the 166,000-square-foot center sits between Nordhoff Street, a major local thoroughfare, and the CSUN campus. The complex comprises two connected buildings wrapped around a central courtyard, which opens toward the school’s other art buildings along CSUN’s east-west axis.
From the street, the main building’s distinctive cantilevered roof and generous glass curtain walls afford clear views inside—a counterpoint to the generally opaque facades on the campus. A minimalist George Rickey kinetic sculpture, once damaged in the Northridge earthquake, and a large reflecting pool facing the street add to the hum of activity. “We wanted an extroverted building,” explained lead designer Kara Hill.
The facade’s travertine tile and glass continue inside the lobby, where a sweeping staircase lifts one’s gaze toward an upper balcony and rooftop terrace. The main building contains the heart of the complex, a 1,700-seat multipurpose performance hall designed with acoustics flexible enough to support anything from a classical music performance to a movie premiere.
The attached building houses a 178-seat black box theater for experimental and student productions, a 230-seat lecture hall, and rehearsal stages and studios for the campus radio station, KCSN (88.5 FM). This structure borrows much of the vocabulary of the main building, culling from the same neutral-toned palette of materials—painted steel, aluminum, stone, and travertine.
To accommodate the variable acoustical needs without changing the appearance of the hall, the building deploys multiple techniques. More than 34,000 feet of stainless steel mesh cover the sound-absorptive wool serge fabric on the rear and side walls. Acoustic banners can also be deployed above the hall’s catwalk. Sinuous wood ribbons wrapped around the three-tiered hall also act as acoustical baffles that hide light poles and speakers underneath. Rather than using forced air systems that can add to noise, the hall uses a displacement ventilation system with diffusers under patrons’ seats.
The $125-million dollar complex was built using both public and private funds. About $110 million has either been received or committed: $80 million from federal, state, and county sources, and $30 million from individuals, corporations, and foundations, according to an official statement. At the building’s press preview, an additional $18 million was still needed to cap off financing, said LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. CSUN plans to close that gap by selling naming rights and holding invitation-only events.