Design of City Performance Hall Unveiled

I have to say, I’ve been worried about the design of the “Third Venue,” the city’s new performance hall in the Arts District. With all the incredible architecture going up in the Arts District, I feared that a municipal project would stick out like a sore thumb. I had nightmares about tacky architecture and cinderblocks.

I got a chance to preview the new design for the city performance hall and must say my fears are completely allayed. The new design is awesome, and will be enhanced by the right exterior materials.

I wanted to share my pics with you all. Here is the first phase of the hall. Here is the completed hall. And here. See other pics of draft designs.

The architect is SOM out of Chicago. I wasn’t familiar with them, so I checked out their website to see previous work. I was impressed by the depth of their work on arts venues, and with their work on international projects.

I met with them yesterday and they walked me through their design for the new City Performance Hall. They discussed the process they used to begin designing the space, then showed me all the iterations they went through before deciding on the final design (I’ve got the pics on my site).

They had really done their homework: they met with and analyzed the needs of the 70 or so small performing arts groups that will use the space. Among other things, SOM looked at the size of the space(s) needed as well as the frequency of the performances. There will be theater, dance, music, and other groups. Some groups need a small venue with only 100 seats, while larger groups need 750 seats or more.

SOM anticipated that 2-3 blackbox theaters and 1 large performance hall would meet the needs of most of the organizations. Given the budget of $38M (which sounds like a lot, but in terms of building an arts venue is just adequate), the city had anticipated that this project would be done in phases, with the first phase paid for the in 2006 bond. SOM therefore had to design a building that could be built in phases, while ensuring that phase 1 stood on its own architecturally. The end result is terrific, with the large performance hall and one black box theater being built in the first phase. (The Latino Cultural Center will have a new black box theater from 2006 bond funds, and this will provide another option while we gear up for phase 2.)

SOM was very cognizant of the fact that they are designing on a street occupied by the products of architectural giants. They knew they had to complement the Nasher, Meyerson, as well as the new Opera House and Theater. They also couldn’t overwhelm the space, and had to provide a beautiful and appropriate entry way into the Arts District. All of this was balanced with the goal of providing a venue that met the needs of smaller arts groups. I believe they have succeeded.

I for one would like to see the hall clothed in a metal exterior, whether silver, gold, or copper. I think that would look amazing with the silver theater next door and the red opera house across the street. Even warm wood would be beautiful, but I don’t know how realistic that is.

It’ll be several months before SOM has plans and a budget finalized. If all goes as planned, we’ll break ground mid-2008 and be finished by 2010.

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