In the Library: Setting the Scene with Theater Architecture and Set Design National Gallery of Art 6th and Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. Through October 2 Performance venues have constantly morphed with the times, from the amphitheaters of ancient times to the digitally enabled entertainment centers of today. During the 18th and 19th centuries, theaters presented a special challenge to architects because of the demand to reconcile excellent acoustics with a design emblematic of a city’s cultural patrimony. Expected to be at once modern and a showcase of traditional arts and culture, theaters of the day demanded a particular brand of architectural prowess. This exhibition at the National Gallery of Art recounts the comedy and drama of this important era in theater architecture and set design as told through the collection of nearly two-dozen rare books.
Posts tagged with "Theaters":
Impossible architecture: Spanish artist's acrylic-on-wood paintings feature gravity-defying, Escher-esque scenes
The impossible architecture depicted in paintings by Spanish artist Cinta Vidal Agulló are immersive M.C. Escher-meets-Dr. Seuss dreamscapes of multi-dimensional planes inhabited by tiny, doll-like figures. The “un-gravity constructions,” as Vidal Agulló calls them, are microscopically-detailed, small-stroke acrylic paintings on wood panels, each maze-like world resembling a planet unto itself. The confusion of the eye in its scramble to identify which way is up is a metaphor for the human condition: the impossibility of completely understanding those around us while grappling to comprehend ourselves. Namely, it is the oft-concealed disparity between our mental state and our physical environs. The topsy-turvy living spaces are peopled by faceless, solitary-looking characters and infinitesimal dollhouse-like furniture and objects, sometimes careening through the air. This foray into intricately detailed, realist painting is a first for Vidal Agulló, who has painted theater backdrops for operas for one of the world’s most prestigious scenography ateliers since age 16. She now works in a small studio in Cardedeu, a small town near Barcelona, Spain. Versed in the application of a large, broom-like brush and large-scale works, Vidal Agulló relished the challenge of reverting to a smaller scale where every flick of the brush matters. Her paintings feature multiple angles and top-sides of interconnected scenes where one is left to decipher the relationships between them. “The architectural spaces and day-to-day objects are an expression of how difficult it is to fit everything that shapes our daily space: relationships, work, ambitions, and dreams,” Vidal Agulló said in an interview with Hi-Fructose. Some of her paintings feature unnaturally conjoined buildings, while others depict upside-down-right-side-up interiors. “Playing with everyday objects and spaces placed in different ways to express that many times the inner dimension of each one of us does not match the mental structures of those around us,” she said.
Bureau V's experimental music venue with a high-tech vibe set to open in a former Williamsburg sawmill
Brooklyn designers Bureau V have completed National Sawdust, an experimental performance venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that will be home to the Original Music Workshop (OMW). The name of the venue comes from the existing building’s history as a sawmill. OMW is a nonprofit led by composer Paola Prestini, whose advisory board includes heavy-hitters such as James Murphy, Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega, and Philip Glass. The 3,000-square-foot space in the heart of Williamsburg at North 6th Street and Wythe Avenue was a collaboration between Bureau V and Arup. It was originally conceived back in 2012 with an estimated opening of 2013. In 2014, it was still unfinished, and a Kickstarter campaign raised over $100,000. Now the project is slated for an opening in October. The design is a mix of a traditional European theater and a black-box space, combining the “crafted beauty of the former” with the “experimental programming and roughness of the latter.” The particular history of the site will add another layer of spatial interest to the building, as its industrial past is conflated with a high-tech present. The result is a sublime collision of new and old: technology and ruin, progress and history, refinement and grit. The acoustics are state-of-the-art and were developed with Arup. For more details on the design, see AN's original 2012 coverage.
AN has been covering Hodgetts + Fung's efforts to update Los Angeles' Norms Diner for the 21st century, but another of the firm's projects will rigorously update a less known—and perhaps more impressive—modernist structure nearby: Culver City High School's Frost Memorial Auditorium in Culver City. Originally designed by local architects Flewelling & Moody, the building has one of the most ambitious structural concrete domes in the city. Each rib was cast in place on a sculpted mound of earth, lifted into position, then joined to other ribs via another concrete pour. Hodgetts & Fung is expanding the building's cramped back-of-house spaces, installing new air conditioning, lighting, and electrical systems, providing handicap access, and adding a new steel-plated proscenium arch to better facilitate theatrical programs. They're also installing a new black box theater in back of the space. “It was never designed to be a production theater, it was designed to be an auditorium," said Craig Hodgetts. "While it was a great building, the shell inhibited them from doing the things that would have made it more useful... It had really good bones, but from a functional standpoint it was really lame," Hodgetts added. The new project will be complete by early next year.
In May, San Francisco will open its intensive renovation of the Strand Theater, one of so many additions to the city's quickly-changing Mid-Market area. Designed by SOM and Page & Turnbull, the new facility is located inside a 1917 building originally used for Vaudeville and then for second-run movies. The theater had been empty since 2003. The firms maintained the structure's facade and portions of its original auditorium, and created a new cafe, a revamped two-story lobby (with huge windows opening to the outside), and a 120 seat event space above the lobby. The 283-seat auditorium can be transformed into a cabaret-style venue with only 220 seats. The building's historic renovation (which included tearing out most of the interior to the studs and exposing long-covered masonry) and seismic upgrades, invisible to most visitors, were a giant task, especially since space was so tight and the building had been neglected for so long. Don't believe us? Look at the construction images below.
Enormous architecture-shaped pillows will fill a vacant field for Chicago's third annual Ragdale Ring
A suburban field on Chicago's North Shore will host a fantastical summer pavilion fashioned after a toy box, with outsized pillows in the shape of architectural elements, according to designs selected as the winner of the third annual Ragdale Ring competition. Young Chicago designers Design With Company (Dw/Co) took their cues from the original Ragdale Ring garden theatre designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1912. The Ragdale Foundation was founded in 1897 on the grounds of Arts and Crafts architect Shaw’s summer home in Lake Forest, Illinois, 30 miles north of Chicago. Architects Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer dubbed their contemporary interpretation of the outdoor theater Shaw Town. Dw/Co plucked architectural details from some of Shaw's early 20th century buildings in the Chicago area—such as the rooftops of Market Square in Lake Forest and the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago—and created “audience-friendly pillows” in their form, to be stored in a giant wooden toy box when not in use. “The moveable pillows sprinkled across the landscape are intended to be used by the audience in a multitude of ways from seating to play,” reads Ragdale's announcement. “Visitors are encouraged to rediscover Shaw’s buildings without even knowing it.” Last year's winner, New York–based Bittertang Farm, sculpted an earthen grotto from packs of hay. (See a gallery of photos from that installation here.) Like Bittertang's ring, Shaw Town is also made from biodegradable materials. Shaw Town, whose construction will be funded by a $15,000 production grant, debuts June 13 at 1230 North Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, Illinois. More information can be found on Ragdale's website, ragdale.org.
What can you do with a vacant lot? Urban activists in Louisville have set out to show just how much with an ongoing pop-up festival of sorts at 615-621 West Main Street, an empty plot of land in the heart of downtown where REX's Museum Plaza skyscraper was once set to rise. They're calling it ReSurfaced. The mission is to repurpose a downtown lot as “an urban laboratory for innovation, community gather, and as an entertainment venue, showcasing our local creativity, breweries, and talent” for five weeks. Open Thursday through Sunday each week through October 25, ReSurfaced events include hip hop concerts, Shakespeare performances, puppet shows, a Pecha Kucha conversation, and a beer garden. According to the event's Facebook page, ReSurfaced is about “Transforming and activating our underutilized surface lots and vacant spaces to bring back the walkable urbanism Louisville once enjoyed.” Louisville has thousands of vacant lots, a problem that earlier this year prompted the city to launch "Lots of Possibility," a design competition sponsored by the mayor's office. Read more at ReSurfaced's website, where you can find a full schedule of events, and a full list of sponsors. They're also updating events from a Twitter account, @CityCollab.
Archtober Building of the Day #1 The Public Theater at Astor Place 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY Ennead Architects Many "Building of the Day" tours demonstrate the vibrancy of New York City, as it manifests itself in public spaces, public buildings, and, today, in the Public Theater. Theater shows us who we are, and the Public Theater has presented a balanced mix of Shakespeare, classics, musicals, contemporary works, and experimental. The lobby is filled with words, and immediately my head is filled with quotes from the Bard: “What do you read, my lord,” and Hamlet replies: ”Words, words, words.” So we kick off with some good words about the public, the theater, and the splendid blend of history and aspiration that brings them all together. Ennead Associate Partner Stephen Cho, led the tour today, developing the history of this sturdy antebellum structure. Originally built in 1853 as the Astor Library, it grew until the 1895 consolidation with the Lenox and Tilden Libraries formed the New York Public Library. The original architect was Alexander Saeltzer, with additions by Thomas Stent. Abandoned by the NYPL in 1911, the structures were repurposed for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1920. The Astor Library became a residence, a half-way house, a kosher cafeteria, and an advocacy organization for the displaced Jews of the early 20th century. By 1965, the building had deteriorated considerably and faced certain demolition. One of the first successful “saves” of the newly-created Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city purchased the building, gave it landmark status and leased it to Joe Papp, who had already established his vision of promoting Shakespeare to the masses. Ada Louise Huxtable called it “the miracle on Lafayette Street.” Ennead began its involvement with the renovation of the lobby and public outdoor space. Taking cues from the historic building, a new stoop was added by gobbling up a lane of Lafayette Street. A glass canopy was also added. Paula Sher of Pentagram had a hand in some of the words, and artist Ben Rubin created The Shakespeare Machine as a site-specific light fixture with 37 LED screens that displays fragments of Shakespeare’s plays. This was a great project to kick off the month of architecture. It has everything – an august beginning as an institution for learning, a historic transformation reflecting the changing nature of the neighborhood, and its chapter as a hub of theaters exploring all those themes and more. Stay tuned for 30 more…tomorrow we tour 250 Bowery by Morris Adjmi Architects at high noon.
Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture and the festival director for Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC. She was previously a partner at Butler Rogers Baskett, and from 1989-2005 at Swanke Hayden Connell. After graduating from Princeton (AB 1975, M.Arch 1979) she worked for Philip Johnson, held faculty appointments at the University of Virginia, NJIT, and her alma mater. email@example.com
Despite pleas for preservation from some of the nation’s top architects, demolition work has begun on a nationally significant example of “Brutalist” architecture in north America, the 1967 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland, designed by the late John M. Johansen. A yellow backhoe with a spike-like attachment began chipping into the theater’s concrete exterior earlier this month, ending any chance that the building could be saved. One local preservationist was able to salvage the original letters from the building, but nothing else. The Mechanic is one of two major Brutalist works by Johansen targeted for demolition in recent years, along with the 1970 Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Owners of the Baltimore theater, a development group headed by David S. Brown Enterprises, plan to replace it with a high rise containing 476 residences and street level commercial space. Shalom Baranes Associates of Washington is the architect. Named for local businessman Morris Mechanic, who built it, the 1,600 seat theater at 1 N. Charles Street was designed to be the sculptural centerpiece of Charles Center, a 33-acre renewal project in downtown Baltimore. When it opened, the theater was hailed as a symbol of the city’s rejuvenation. The building was considered a prime example of the architectural movement known as “Brutalism” or “New Brutalism,” because it involved creating an unadorned, free form building with raw concrete -- “breton brut” in French. Johansen, a pioneer in the movement, described the theater as “functional expressionalism,” because the exterior was designed to express what was going on inside The building received numerous awards and accolades in architectural circles, but it also sparked controversy. One theater critic, unimpressed with the exposed concrete interior, lamented that going to the Mechanic was like watching performances inside a storm drain. A public official likened its shape to that of a poached egg on toast. In 2009, it was ranked Number One on a British publication’s list of the “World’s Top Ten Ugliest Buildings.” Johansen defended it to the end. “The Mechanic Theatre is one of my favorites,” he said in 2007. “It’s right up there at the top of the list. It’s a dear, dear building. It’s not brutalistic, as some say. It’s like a flower, opening its petals. It has drawing power.” The theater closed in 2004, after a larger performing arts center opened in the restored 1914 Hippodrome Theater several blocks away, with more seats and backstage facilities designed to accommodate touring Broadway style shows. The Mechanic was dormant for years, and eventually was acquired by Brown and owners of a parking garage underneath. They initially asked Baranes to prepare a design that retained most of the theater’s shell as part of a larger development, but opposed efforts to have the theater designated a city landmark -- a warning signal to preservationists. Before he died in 2012 at age 96, Johansen, the last of the “Harvard Five,” pleaded with Baltimore officials to designate the theater a landmark and not issue a demolition permit. To support his case, he submitted a hand-drawn design showing how the theater could be incorporated into a larger mixed use center. More than a dozen well known architects wrote letters to the city supporting landmark designation, including Hugh Hardy, Richard Rogers, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, and James Stewart Polshek, who urged public officials to save the building from “the wrecking ball of greed.” Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation added the Mechanic to a “special list” that offered temporary protection from demolition. But two other civic bodies in Baltimore, the Planning Commission and City Council, never agreed to add it to the city’s permanent landmark list, which would have given it more protection. Saying they could find no tenants for the repurposed theater after years of looking, the developers abandoned their initial plans, asked Baranes to design a mixed use development without the theater on the site, and applied for a demolition permit. They waited out the six month protection period afforded by the preservation panel’s emergency listing and received their demolition permit earlier this year.
Detroit’s Michigan Theatre remains iconic, but not for the reasons that made it so during its early 20th century heyday. Now the opulent 1926 concert hall holds parked cars instead of theater-goers. Will it remain a symbol of Detroit’s struggle to recover from long-term disinvestment, or could it become emblematic of the city’s resilience? This week ArchDaily looked at what might become of "Detroit's most remarkable ruin" in an article that was also published on The Huffington Post. Last month, wrote Kate Abbey-Lambertz, the building was pulled from public auction and was purchased by developers Boydell Group for an undisclosed amount. Though its infamous use as a parking garage has grabbed headlines (and its crumbling beauty served as a backdrop in Eminem’s 8 Mile), the building still hosts events. Just this weekend a skateboarding competition and concert took over the space. (One band's bassist knocked an event photographer's drone down with a beer can.) But what would it take to turn the Michigan Theatre into something more permanent than a makeshift rock club? Wondered ArchDaily:
Will it ever again look like it did in 1926? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a vibrant future. “Creative destruction is very much a part of our history,” [Preservation Detroit’s executive director Claire] Nowak-Boyd said, “and is perhaps more central to our story than that of any other American city… This site encapsulates that.”Another symbol of Detroit’s bygone glory days recently got a second look from designers. A "Reanimate the Ruins" competition envisioned a brighter future for the massive Packard Plant site.
Work wrapped up this summer on Bittertang Farms’ installation at Ragdale, the nonprofit artists’ community in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs, and true to its plans the straw amphitheater springs forth from a lush hillside in Lake Forest, Illinois. Designers Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres of The Bittertang Farm won $15,000 earlier this year to erect the 102nd Ragdale Ring—an ongoing design competition for temporary outdoor theater spaces in north suburban Chicago. Based in Mexico City and New York City, the designers evoked the theater’s bucolic setting with straw-filled tubes of biodegradable material. Dubbed Buru Buru, Bittertang’s amphitheater creeps up from the soil with straw wattle tendrils. Wrapping around a framework of trusses, it forms a pentagonal opening whose womb-like quality is only enhanced by LEDs that illuminate the interior at night. Buru Buru’s organic elements are more than a formal nod to fuzzy ideas—the structure is actually meant to entwine with its natural habitat over time. In addition to sheltering actors and activating the rolling hills of Lake Forest, Buru Buru is also a substrate for growing grasses and mushrooms.
“It’s a fun time in Vegas right now, with the economy up,” said Beth Campbell, principal and managing director of Gensler’s Las Vegas office. Downtown is being reborn, thanks in no small part to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s multi-million dollar investment. The Strip, too, is booming—see the High Roller observation wheel, which opened on March 31. At the same time, the spendthrift breeziness of the pre-recession years is gone. “Everyone is coming back to life, but with a refined focus and purpose,” said Campbell. “I would say the clients and developers are cautiously aggressive...they still want to grow, still want to reach for the sky...But they’re really focused on how they’re applying [their money] to make these projects happen.” Campbell described the change as a “big shift to experiential design.” In most cases, property owners elect to pour most of their money into key client areas, keeping behind-the-scenes spaces simple. “It’s the peanut butter concept,” said Campbell. “You can spread it thin across the whole piece [of bread] or just put it all in one corner.” As an example, Campbell cited Gensler’s renovation of an existing office campus for budget airline Allegiant Air’s new headquarters. Construction on the five-building, 120,000 square-foot complex began last month. “It’s been a very measured approach to this new facility for them, keeping in line with their corporate values and their low-cost approach,” said Campbell. “But they put their people first, and they’re doing the same thing in their office space.” To accommodate multiple work modes, Gensler created a variety of spaces, including open office space, individual work stations, and collaboration zones. Flexibility was the keynote. “Although we’re doing drywall partitions, we’re doing it in such a manner that if they want to move these boxes they can,” said Campbell. Gensler also recently renovated The AXIS Theater inside Planet Hollywood, home to Britney Spears’s “A Piece of Me” show. The clients “had one mission in mind and that was to create a great experience for the people who are coming,” said Campbell. As with Allegiant Air, the theater’s owners “were very measured, they were very methodical about how they wanted to apply their money.” The theater’s lobby is outfitted in shades of grey and black, the sharp lines of the asymmetrical portal balanced by a massive LED sculpture spiraling from the ceiling. In keeping with the nightclub theme, the auditorium’s walls are also black, as is its domed ceiling. Rows of purple seats hug a half-ring of VIP tables and, against the stage, two standing areas. Campbell sees last month’s RFP for a Downtown Master Plan as further evidence of the new zeitgeist, which couples renewed optimism with careful planning. “It’s a mechanism for the city to evaluate what’s in place, what do we really have,” she said. “It’s going to take a look at, are they spending their money in the right places?” Timed to coincide with the completion of a new form-based code for downtown, the master plan will define an overall strategy for the city’s revitalization. “It’s really interesting to watch,” said Campbell. “It’s measured. It’s not just a shotgun approach.”