Western Connecticut State University Visual & Performing Arts Center
Function: Home to the university’s School of Visual & Performing Arts (SVPA), the only school of its kind in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system.
Project Cost: $97 million, including programming, design, construction and equipment fit-out
Facility Size: 130,000 square feet
Design Architects: Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture
Architects of Record: Amenta/Emma
Construction Manager: Dimeo Construction
Specialty Consultants: JaffeHolden (Acoustics); Fisher Dachs Associates (Theatre)
- Three architecturally distinct wings for the departments of art, music and theatre arts, connected through a stunning multi-tiered lobby.
- Art gallery, featuring Panelock System 200 gallery display system, end-cut maple flooring and floor to ceiling windows delivering artist-preferred northern light.
- Concert hall, seating in the round on three levels for an audience of up to 350, with variable acoustics, state-of-the-art performance audio and lighting, 5:1 HD recording and two Concert Grand pianos Steinway Model “D” (Hamburg), Yamaha CFX.
- Main stage theatre, featuring seating for an audience of up to 350 with top-of-the-line acoustics and sight-lines, orchestra pit to accommodate up to 30 musicians, 38-foot proscenium, full facility with 51 manual line sets, movable stage electrics, 400 plus ETC fixtures, Varilite and Martin automated lighting, with Eos lighting and Digico audio consoles.
- Recording studio, featuring a Solid State Logic Duality audio console in the control room, a “live room” with two isolation booths and a Yamaha CF4 Grand Piano. The recording studio also boasts the capability of digitally recording from any of the building’s 5 audio-equipped performance and rehearsal venues.
- Studio theatre, featuring flexible seating for up to 125 audience members, performance lighting and audio with an Ion control desk.
- Spacious art studios for drawing, graphic design, painting, photography and sculpture.
- Eighteen distinctive art studios for MFA students.
- Theatre rehearsal studios, featuring sprung dance floors and performance audio/visual systems.
- Fully outfitted scene and costume shops.
- Dressing rooms for chorus and guest artists.
- Twenty-eight practice rooms, acoustically treated and isolated; four with Yamaha or Steinway pianos, five specially designed and outfitted for our audio and music production majors.
Awards and Accolades
ClarkDietrich Building Systems: Design Excellence and Construction Innovation Award from the Cold-Formed Steel Engineers Institute (CFSEI)
Design Architect’s Comments
The architecture of Western Connecticut State University’s Visual & Performing Arts Center emphasizes the individual character of each of the university’s arts programs while encouraging interaction and the cross-pollination of the university’s artistic activities. The multi-faceted relationship among the programs of the School of Visual & Performing Arts is expressed in the Center’s interplay of shapes, materials and light. Each program — art, music and theatre arts — is identified with a metal-clad geometric shape housing its signature activity: the music program’s concert hall, the theatre department’s proscenium theater, and the visual arts’ north-facing studios. The shapes result from the specific requirements and nature of each activity: the intimacy of theater, the expansiveness of performed music, and the creative concentration of the visual arts.
The specific character of the space for each artistic activity is further defined by the way in which light is treated. In the theater, lighting is all electric and completely controlled to emphasize the intimacy of the dramatic experience. In the concert hall, controlled daylight is balanced with performance-lighting to provide a broad range of architectural settings for the many types of musical presentations that will be performed in the space. Natural north light floods the visual arts studios to create an environment ideal for painting, drawing and sculpting.
The school’s three programs are brought together visually by the Center’s continuously curved exterior wall, which is enlivened by the shade and shadow of its textured and shaped brick surface. Inside, the building’s central lobby brings together the three programs in a double-height common space. The lobby’s large elliptical ramp functionally connects the three programs and architecturally expresses the continuously evolving artistic interaction of the School of Visual & Performing Arts’ students and faculty.
Nestor Bottino, FAIA
Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture
Architect of Record’s Comments
Creating what will surely become a transformative academic arts facility for Western Connecticut State University, the Visual and Performing Arts Center is completely the result of a great collaboration between the project design team and the university. The energy of the building design, the level of technical detail, and the quality of space for instruction and performance reflects a process in which the creativity and expertise of the architectural team was able to successfully bring to life the university’s vision. What made this work especially well was the level of engagement and technical insight the music, theatre and visual arts faculty and administration contributed to the development of the facility. The building is a tribute to this collective effort.
As the leader of the architectural and engineering team, for Amenta Emma Architects, the Visual and Performing Arts Center is a building filled with thousands of solutions related to programming, aesthetic and technical decisions. Each space, each surface, each material, each color, each piece of equipment and each piece of furniture has a story behind it. And as complex and interesting as the journey has been to complete the final product, it is knowing the profound impact the building will have on the academic life of Western’s students and the cultural life of the university community which is the most rewarding.
The 350-seat concert hall features clear and resonant acoustics often associated with a much larger capacity room. To accomplish this, the stage platform and acoustical volume are large enough so that a symphony orchestra and chorus can perform on stage comfortably. The shaping of the stage walls are designed to blend the sound and provide critical early reflections to the musicians so they can hear themselves and their colleagues accurately. The ceiling slope and wood materials have been selected to add the diffusive blend of the sound in the hall and to project the sound into the audience. The angle of the sloping side walls directs sound up into the ceiling where they are diffused further and allow the sound reflections to be delayed slightly to allow for the room to ring more and not be otherwise overly loud. For amplified or loud unamplified performances that require a drier acoustic, computer-controlled, motor-operated adjustable banners are deployed that absorb sound and cut off the volumes behind them to reduce the resonance of the room.
The theater has been designed as an intimate acoustic environment where the unaided voice can be heard anywhere in the house. When body microphones are used, the room’s dry acoustic is able to absorb excess sound so that the intended sound is intelligible and clear.
The rehearsal rooms have been designed with adjustable wall panels so they can be tuned to the correct acoustic depending on the ensemble group that is rehearsing. These panels are easily opened or closed by hand.
The recording studio features the latest in acoustic control techniques. The control, or monitoring, room features the correct mix of absorption, diffusion and reflection so the operator achieves the most natural and un-biased sound at the mixing console. The live room features a solid wood diffusive ceiling and hard wood floor, adjustable wall panels for absorption control and sound-proof windows and doors for complete sound isolation.
All of the studios and practice rooms have been designed with acoustical isolation construction methods to insure the proper amount of sound isolation between rooms. The mechanical systems have been designed for all of the acoustic spaces to achieve the differing background sound level for their use, be it recording-level quiet, individual practice, one-on-one instruction, class instruction or group ensemble rehearsing.
The theater has industry-standard theatrical sound systems installed to create a Broadway-style system that prepares students for careers in live theater sound. Computer-based multi-track playback, digital mixing and multichannel speaker systems complement the uses of the room. The Concert Hall Audio/Video system combines video projection for large groups with sound reinforcement for performances on stage. Both venues connect to the recording studio suite, which is equipped with the latest in analog and digital recording, monitoring and control technologies.
The recording suite can record live performances in both performance spaces as well as rehearsals in the primary rehearsal rooms and mix them down into stereo or surround formats. A live room and isolation rooms with direct sightlines into the control room allow for smaller ensemble recording. From a small jazz ensemble to full orchestra performance, the audio/video system design in the concert hall allows for the most precise control of the recording sessions through motorized microphones that are remotely controlled from the recording control room.
For years, the Theatre Department at WCSU has been doing terrific work under far-from- ideal conditions. Initial planning for a new building began in 2003. With the opening of the Visual and Performing Arts Center, the teachers, performers, directors, designers and technicians finally have a facility equal to their talents.
The Center’s facilities include: Proper scenery and costume shops for instruction and construction. A large rehearsal space, which can also serve as a “black box” studio theatre for informal performances. Smaller rehearsal spaces for scene work and classes.
The department’s centerpiece — and the performance companion to the Music Department’s Concert Hall — is the proscenium theatre.
At 350 seats, the theatre has the ideal audience capacity — a decent size, but not too large. An otherwise wonderful student performance might be lost or overwhelmed in a larger space. With its small balcony and side seating galleries, the theatre is designed to foster a dynamic, intimate relationship between the performer and the audience.
The theatre’s 80-foot-wide stage and state-of-the art equipment can meet the demands of any production, from the simplest to the most technically ambitious. There are 56 rigging pipes, and 70 feet of fly space, with a walkable gridiron. The stage lighting system has 480 dimmers, and a control data network to operate contemporary “moving lights” and effects equipment. Overhead catwalks provide safe and convenient access for hanging and focusing lights. A motorized lift can create either a stage extension or an orchestra pit.
Dressing rooms and a green room/lounge provide comfortable accommodations for performers and crew. In general, the building design recognizes that students and staff spend long hours in the Center (many more than the audience!), and that it was important to provide a pleasant working environment, with natural light wherever possible.
Fisher Dachs Associates consults on many different types of theatre projects, including multi-million dollar urban performing arts centers. But projects like this — which foster education and interest in the performing arts—- are among the most important to us. We are proud to have had a role in design and construction of the WCSU Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Fisher Dachs Associates
Theatre Planning and Design
A wonderful new facility for the arts now exists on the Westside campus. A few of the spaces in the art wing have a sensational effect upon entry, with striking 25-foot ceilings and banks of north and east facing windows. These architectural features utilize light in effective and dramatic ways. With the incorporation of state-of-the-art technology and equipment, and continued dedication of a talented faculty, the learning experiences of our students will reach new heights.
Department of Art faculty offices are located on the main level and incorporate an art administration area that also provides spaces for adjuncts. Additionally, an intimate and functional lecture room fitted with state-of-the-art AV technology serves as a classroom for art history courses and as a venue for the Artist Speaker Series. Two Design Studio classrooms will serve graphic design, illustration and foundation students. Also on the main floor are the Digital Lab and the Production Lab. The Digital Lab features Macintosh workstations with industry-standard graphics software, a wide format flatbed scanner and large format color printer. The Production Lab incorporates a light table, projectors and large format and wide format color printers along with bookbinding equipment.
The oblique shape of the gallery creates an intriguing space in which to view art on the second level. A floor comprised of small, square hardwood blocks makes a beautiful surface on which to walk. The dramatic architectural features of the painting and sculpture facilities with their tall ceilings and walls of glass provide an outstanding environment for creativity. The features of the Drawing Studio fuse light and shapes to establish a compelling space in which to draw. An outdoor terrace rounds out the second level.
The Photography complex on the third level features a full range of enlargers, scanners and printers incorporated within both traditional and digital photography labs. There is also a lighting studio that serves as a lecture space. Eighteen individual M.F.A. studios complete the top floor of the Visual Arts wing. Some of these spaces have impressive views with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sculpture and painting studios. Others are pragmatic spaces in which to create art.
Chair Department of Art