Studio Gang’s treehouse revamp of Writers Theatre isn’t the only North Shore performance space to dance with organic forms. Designers Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres of The Bittertang Farm won $15,000 to install a temporary stage for performances in Lake Forest, where renderings show sculpted piles of hay and wavy architectural forms that “melt into the existing landscape.” Their design will be the 102nd iteration of the Ragdale Ring, a competition that invites architects, designers, and artists to cook up ideas for a temporary outdoor theater space on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. The nonprofit Ragdale Foundation has supported artist residencies and exhibitions since its founding in 1897 on the grounds of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw’s summer home in Lake Forest, Illinois, 30 miles north of Chicago (1230 N. Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, Illinois). “At Ragdale we are creating a new ground—one that brings together different architectural forms, including grottoes, gardens, mounds and hay piles to create a structure that can be performed ‘on’ as well as ‘under,’” said Loverich and Torres in a statement. Construction on the temporary structure will begin this month, with the public unveiling scheduled for June 14. The debut will be a benefit show featuring a “masked garden party” and performances by musicians and actors inside the Ring. “The Ring will serve as a gathering place, enlivening the historic campus of Ragdale as a place of dynamic artistic and architectural experimentation,” said Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), juror, and a member of Ragdale’s board of directors. “And, when the season concludes, the Ring is ultimately biodegradable.” The design appears as a larger version of an installation the firm built on New York City's Governors Island in 2011.
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Joshua Prince-Ramus, principal at REX, has a bone to pick with modernism and its legacy. “For the last 100 years, architecture’s been involved in a silly tension between form and function,” he said. While high modernism privileged function over form, some of today’s top designers argue that architecture is about aesthetics and not much else. REX has a different take: architecture, the firm claims, is both function and form. “We really believe that architecture can do things. It’s not just a representational art form,” said Prince-Ramus. “We talk about performance. Aesthetics are part of performance [as is function.]” Prince-Ramus, who will deliver the afternoon keynote address at next week’s facades+PERFORMANCE New York conference, approaches facade design as an integral part of the design process as a whole. That process, in turn, revolves around a concept he calls agenda. “We set out in our projects to figure out what the project’s agenda should be, then we set out to delimit the constraints,” he said. “Then we try to find the embodiment of the agenda that will fit seamlessly within those constraints.” REX’s current projects include a pair of headquarters buildings for sister media companies in the Middle East. The stone-clad towers are covered in retractable sunshades that reference a traditional Arab Mashrabiya pattern. As an example of how constraints can influence facade design, Prince-Ramus cited the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. REX (with OMA) slashed the project’s envelope budget in order to build a theater that changes shape to suit different arts events. The money they were left with, said Prince-Ramus, was about what standard aluminum siding would cost—so they started there. “We made a dummy design where we spent a lot of effort trying to not design something aesthetically, but that we’d put it out to the market and uncover what in the market drove costs,” he said. In Dallas that turned out to be weight, since frequent hail storms require thick siding. REX/OMA developed a facade system of extruded tubes that would protect against hailstones while minimizing the amount of aluminum required. “We made something that was very beautiful and very unique,” said Prince-Ramus. “Certainly if we’d come back to the client with flat aluminum siding they would have said, ‘Put the money back into the facade.'...The success of the facade is why we were able to build a building that’s renowned for its ability to transform.” While the Wyly Theatre facade was shaped by financial constraints, the client’s particular vision informed the envelope for the Mercedes Benz Future Center in Stuttgart. “Part of the collective agenda was that the building should be very transparent, as opposed to museums, which tend to be very cloistered,” said Prince-Ramus. But the automaker also wanted the Future Center, which will display its vision for the future of automobile technology, to be “a beacon for sustainability.” REX’s current solution (which may change as the design develops) is to create a curtain-like sunshade that wraps around the all-glass building. The shade is opaque on one side of the building and nearly transparent on the other, and rotates with the sun’s movements. The curtain is a metaphor for the unknowability of the future: Prince-Ramus recalled the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, which says that it is impossible to simultaneously determine the value of certain variables. “The more you know of one, the less you know of others,” he said. “In discussions about the future, that idea seemed really inherent in what they’re doing [at Mercedes Benz].” Whatever the origin of a particular facade design, for Prince-Ramus it always comes back to performance, the standard that for him encapsulates both function and aesthetics. “The more we’ve used the word performance, the more I’m convinced it does have that dual meaning,” he said. “When [they] talk about a high-performance auto, they don’t just mean it goes from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds. They mean it’s sexy, too.” To hear Joshua Prince-Ramus speak next week, visit the facades+PERFORMANCE New York conference website.
In November, the Los Angeles City Council named Armet & Davis' Johnie’s Coffee Shop, the restaurant at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, a historic cultural landmark. That’s a win for preservationists concerned with the legacy of the Googie style, the auto-oriented, steel-and-neon aesthetic that spawned diners and coffee shops across Southern California from the 1940s through the 1960s. It might also give a leg up to locals interested in seeing Johnie’s returned to its original use. Because Johnie’s Coffee Shop isn’t a coffee shop, and hasn’t been for over a decade. Since 2000, it’s been closed to the public and used exclusively for filming. The restaurant’s film credits, both before and after its conversion to a 24/7 theatrical set, include The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs. But while the best use for a building like Johnie's might have a stronger community orientation, in the meantime its co-optation by the film industry isn't all bad. When it takes over a building, the film industry buys time for preservationists and others hoping to breathe new life into an under-used landmark, Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy explained. "It's kind of an advantage that Los Angeles has over other cities," he said. In addition, "People discover buildings through film," Scott said. "Johnie's, some of the films it's been in, it's clearly the star of the film." Approximately two years ago, the Los Angeles Conservancy honored Mad Men and its creator, Matthew Weiner, for the way in which it showcases midcentury modern architecture. Weiner has been active in efforts to preserve Los Angeles landmarks, Fine said, and the show has featured preservation-themed plot lines, including the demolition of New York's Penn Station. This all got us thinking: what other LA architectural landmarks are now used primarily as stage sets? The answer, it turns out, is quite a few. From one of Julia Morgan’s earliest Hearst commissions to a 1958 Pereira & Luckman high-rise, here’s our list of Los Angeles masterworks currently in the hands of the film industry. Herald Examiner Building (Downtown, Broadway and 11th Street) Media magnate William Randolph Hearst commissioned 2014 AIA Gold Medal recipient Julia Morgan to design a new headquarters building for the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper in 1913, ten years after the paper’s founding. When the Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Examiner’s successor, went under in 1989, the Hearst Corporation held on to the structure. In 2008, Brenda Levin (who cites Julia Morgan as her role model) was set to renovate the building—but then the economy tanked. Plans to rehabilitate the building, and build two Morphosis-designed residential towers adjacent to it, were put on indefinite hold. Today, the Herald Examiner building is used exclusively for filming. Scenes in The Usual Suspects, Dreamgirls, Spider-Man 3, Zoolander, Castle, Bones, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, plus music videos by Eminem, Shakira, and Christina Aguilera were shot there. Interior location sets include an apartment, bar, jail, and police station. Park Plaza Hotel (Westlake, 607 South Park View Street) Art Deco and Corporate Moderne architect Claud Beelman designed the Park Plaza Hotel as Elks Lodge No. 99 in 1925. During the 1932 Olympics, the building hosted several indoor swimming events. The Park Plaza, which is listed as a Los Angeles historic-cultural landmark, features four ballrooms: the Grand Ballroom, whose decorated ceiling beams were modeled after a palace in Florence; the Art Deco Terrace Room, formerly the Elks Lodge meeting room; the Bronze Ballroom, distinguished by its copper-gilded columns; and the smaller Gold Room, named for the gold-leaf detail on its Corinthian columns. Both indoor and outdoor spaces, including the Tuscan Patio, can be rented for filming, weddings, and other events. Greystone Mansion (Beverly Hills, 501 Doheny Road) The lavish Beverly Hills estate known as Greystone Mansion was designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann beginning in 1925 for Edward Laurence Doheny, Jr., son of Los Angeles’s original oil magnate. Kaufmann, who would go on to design both the Hoover Dam and the Los Angeles Times building, designed the fifty-five room mansion in the Tudor style. The estate gained notoriety soon after construction finished, when Doheny, Jr. was found dead of an apparent murder-suicide. The City of Beverly Hills purchased the property in 1955, and built a reservoir on the site. The grounds of the mansion are open to the public, while the interior is available for filming and events. Greystone Mansion is featured in movies including The Muppets, The Social Network, What Women Want, Air Force One, and Ghostbusters. Los Angeles Theatre (Downtown, Broadway and 6th Street) In the ultimate Hollywood irony, the Los Angeles Theatre now just plays one on TV. The film palace was designed in 1931 by S. Charles Lee, after the Fox Theatre in San Francisco. A popular theater designer, Lee’s other Los Angeles buildings include the Alex Theatre, the Saban Theatre (formerly the Fox Wilshire), the Star Theatre, and the Tower Theatre. The Los Angeles Theatre, which the Los Angeles Conservancy calls “[t]he most lavish . . . of Broadway’s great movie palaces,” features a six-story lobby with a Louis XIV-inspired sunburst motif, plus a glass-ceiling ballroom and a nursery decorated with a circus theme. The building is available for rent as a film location, and for special events, live stage performances, and film screenings. "[The film industry] has certainly been instrumental in keeping the theaters going, where historic theaters are certainly one of the most difficult [building types] to adapt," Fine said. "I'm not sure, if you look at other cities with historic theaters, if we hadn't had the filming industry doing things, we probably would have lost them." Los Angeles Center Studios (City West, 1501 W. Fifth Street) When the Los Angeles Center Studios’ original tower, designed by Pereira & Luckman, was completed in 1958, it was the tallest structure in downtown LA. Hexagonal in shape, the International Style building is entirely unornamented, except for the aluminum sunshades at the base of each window. By 1998 the building, which was originally designed as part of Union Oil’s headquarters, was threatened with demolition. A group of developers bought the complex and converted it into a full-service TV, film, and commercial production studio. The Pereira & Luckman tower is now dedicated to entertainment and creative office space.
Roughly one year after it announced a fundraising campaign to reinvent its home with a Studio Gang–designed “cultural destination,” Writers Theatre in suburban Glencoe said Wednesday it had raised $22 million of the $28 million needed to build the structure on Chicago’s north shore. Studio Gang’s design employs a lot of wood—a nod to the half-timber wood construction of proto-Tudor style architecture in the U.K., where modern theater began. The airy lobby and 2nd-floor “grand gallery walk,” which circumscribes the lobby and provides access to the building’s main 250-seat theater, also acknowledge leafy Glencoe’s abundance of trees. A rooftop terrace and green roof tie into Friends Park across the street, while large windows serve as beacons to passersby. “We tried to open this theater up and make it part of the community,” Jeanne Gang said. The new building still needs $6 million in funding, but Writers Theatre staff were ebullient in their praise for donors who gave as much as $5 million to help realize the structure. “It maintains our commitment to intimate theater, while doubling our capacity,” said Michael Halberstam, Writers Theatre’s artistic director. “It will match the quality of our art and will allow us to make an even more significant investment in our artists.”
Studio Gang Architects are familiar with theatrical spaces, and with the rhythms of the natural world; their design for Writers Theatre in north suburban Chicago reaches out to nature with timber trusses and a raised promenade through the trees. But a new project may take those interests one step further. SGA announced Wednesday they will collaborate with Thodos Dance Chicago on a project "investigating the intersection of dance, architecture, and physics.” Working with University of Chicago physicist Sidney Nagel and his lab group, Gang’s interactive structure will draw inspiration from “jamming” — the research process of studying disordered materials. The world premiere dance performance will also explore the overlap of physics, dance, and architecture. As yet untitled, the work will debut as part of Thodos’ Winter Concert 2014 on Saturday Feb. 22, 2014 at 8 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, IL. Tickets are available at northshorecenter.org.
Venerable old institutions in England are looking for a fresh look these days. The nearly 200-year-old Old Vic Theatre in London is the latest to make plans for a much-needed facelift. The institutions artistic director, actor Kevin Spacey, is committed to bringing the structure into the 21st century through refurbishment of the current building and expansion into a newly acquired adjacent space. The Guradian reported that the theater is working with architecture firm Bennetts Associates Architects to develop plans for the restoration, which will be submitted in an application to the local government this November. The new Old Vic will include an increase in front-of-house services, improved accessibility for disabled persons, and urgent repairs to the leaking roof. Spacey has often acknowledged the crumbling state of the theater, one of the oldest in London, especially the severe damage of its dribbling roofs and Victorian plumbing. The restoration plans to update the theater’s facilities and increase the amount available, create a public café and bar, an outdoor terrace, and a community event space. The improved theater will also provide step-free access and wheelchair spaces to allow for universal mobility within the building. Backstage, rehearsal rooms and green rooms will be improved. And the creation of an entirely new studio dedicated to the theater’s education and emerging talent program, Old Vic New Voices, will eliminate current reliance on rented space. Spacey has vowed to raise $33 million (£20M) for the project by the end of 2015, the year he plans to retire from his position. Although no timeline has been set, theater officials hope to begin construction in the next five years, but that date depends on fundraising.
DePaul University lays claim to many superlatives, like Largest Catholic University and other stuff. We have one: The Largest Collegiate Architectural Snoozefest. That is until now. On the heels of the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, DePaul recently cut the ribbon on its new Theater School, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. The new building is quite literally—excuse the cliché—a breath of fresh air, clad in materials other than brick veneer. (Photo: Jeff Goldberg / ESTO)
Welton Becket's 1958 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, once a beacon of midcentury optimism, this weekend shuttered its doors. The bending, intricately ornamented auditorium hosted several Academy Awards in the 1960s, as well as concerts by the likes of Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Prince, and Bob Dylan. But the facility recently fell on hard times, as bands gravitated to larger venues (leaving it mostly hosting trade fairs), and as a planned $52 million renovation was recently cancelled when California abolished its Community Redevelopment Agencies. Santa Monica Civic, a working group strategizing the venue's future, told the LA Times that it will take several months to develop a new plan for the landmarked structure, including film screenings, live theater, or even restaurants.
A system of 946 unique panels will produce optimal acoustics and aesthetics at the University of Iowa's new School of Music.For a 700-seat concert hall at the new School of Music at the University of Iowa, Seattle-based LMN Architects wanted to design a high-performing ceiling canopy that would unify the many features of traditional theatrical and acoustic systems. The result is a 150-foot-long by 70-foot-wide surface composed of 946 suspended, intricately laced panels that incorporate complex, interdependent, and at times conflicting systems—including lighting, theatrics, speakers, sprinklers, and acoustical functionality—in a unified architectural gesture. "The system is sculptural for sure, but it had to conceal structural truss work, which was a major cost savings as opposed to building an acoustic container," said Stephen Van Dyck, a principal at LMN Architects. The design team worked with both parametric digital and physical models to coordinate the structural system with the acoustic, theatrical, audio/visual, lighting, fire, and material elements of the canopy. "From Day One, it was a digital model," he said. "We needed a smaller physical model to get everyone's head around making this happen physically. A three-foot room model has a big impact on ability to conceive." LMN fabricated the scale model, as well as a few full-sized components, on the firm’s 3-axis CNC mill. The canopy is divided into hundreds of panels, each of which is unique to accommodate the needs of the many systems. Along the back of the canopy's perimeter, panels feature large openings so that the sound profile of each concealed speaker passes through unimpeded. Other panels along the perimeter are designed with varying degrees of acoustic transparency relative to the size of openings on surrounding panels. Medium openings toward the back of the canopy house stage lighting, while smaller openings accommodate house lights. Panels with the smallest openings, or those less than 70 percent open, conceal sprinklers, while the solid panels that droop down over the stage are angled to effectively reflect sound into the house. "From the audience, the intent is for sound to reach you quickly rather than for other sounds to arrive slower," Van Dyck explained, "so the sculptural gesture brings sounds right back to the audience." The many consultants who contributed to the design worked in different digital formats. The acousticians used SketchUp; the lighting designers worked in Revit; and theater and audio/visual specifications were saved as DWG files. Each program was compatible with Rhino and, with a Grasshopper plugin, LMN was able to incorporate information from all other platforms. "The parametric model was very flexible and let us accommodate changes all along as developments came from other contributors," Van Dyck said of the design process, which he described as more cyclical than linear. The parametric capabilities of the digital tools that the team used helped facilitate a smooth and efficient documentation process during the mock ups, making it easy to go back through any kinks that were uncovered. LMN built the mockup from aluminum composite paneling, a relatively inexpensive metal system composed of two layers of aluminum with a composite core. The material is highly flexible and it can be bent by hand after scoring on the CNC mill. This process could potentially eliminate on-site fabrication requirements. Fabrication data generated by this production model will be applied to all 946 of the unique panels in the final project. Documents will go to bid this summer, and the building is expected to open in 2016.
While the future of the current Penn Station will be up in the air for some time, a theater group plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original Penn Station's destruction, which takes place on October 28. Taking place this fall, playwright Justin Rivers and director Barika Edwards will present The Eternal Space, a play that chronicles the demolition of the architectural monument and acts out debates over historic preservation that are still relevant today. According to the play's website, the set will transport the audience back in time: "Using the latest in projection technology, the photographs will speak for themselves making the audience feel as though they are sitting in the station itself." Present photographs are also used to create the station in its current form and to show the passing of time. Architecture and urban planning have taken center stage before in performances such as In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards, Murder, Love, and Insanity: Stanford White and the Gilded Age, an opera about Robert Moses, and a series of plays by Moshe Safdie's son Oren.
Northern Illinois may not have pyramids (you’ll have to go to elsewhere in the Midwest for that) but the Egyptian Theatre continues Pharaoh Ramses II’s reign over downtown DeKalb, IL. As this post in PreservationNation describes, the movie house has undergone a series of restoration efforts since it landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Designed by architect Elmer F. Behrns in 1929, the theater’s pharaoh sculptures, scarab stained glass, and winged orb marquee fell into disrepair by the late seventies, when the theater closed. It reopened in 1983, but renovations continued until recently. In the last six years building rehabilitation and maintenance exceeded $1.5 million, but creative fundraising—the owners, Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre, Inc., sold the theater’s original seats when they were replaced in 2011 and even started running popular haunted tours—have helped fill the financial gap. The building owners hope to continue renovations, including replacing the carpeting and installing air conditioning.
Portage Park’s historic Portage Theater won a unanimous recommendation from the Chicago Commission on Landmarks last week, but the 1920s movie house isn't out of the woods yet. After a neighborhood church announced it would withdraw its bid to acquire the northwest side cinema, preservationists celebrated. But a September acquisition by Congress Theater owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza left some of them with lingering doubts. WBEZ's Jim DeRogatis reported theater owners Dennis Wolkowicz and Dave Dziedzic may have been served with a 60-day eviction notice, noting the Portage has no new bookings after mid-April. The landmark designation, which still needs approval from City Council, would protect the theater’s lobby, interior, and facade. Future owners could still tear out the theater’s 1,300 seats because they aren’t original, DNAinfo Chicago reported, but the theater would have to remain a cinema. Carranza previously said he wanted to turn the theater into a concert venue—a plan opposed by many preservationists and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena.