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A look inside Hamilton’s new theatre and studio arts building

By Bonnie Wertheim '14

February 14, 2014

Anyone who lives in a dark side suite knows all too well that the construction of the new theatre and studio arts building is well under way. The project has made tremendous headway since students first moved in for Hamilton’s 2013-2014 academic year, when the building still appeared skeletal and was covered in neon green panels. Now, with its full-glass façade and several complete and nearly complete interior elements, the building is beginning to look like a cohesive part of the College campus.

The new building will provide the theatre and art departments with 80,000 square feet of usable space. “Minor has about 15,000 square feet and List has about 30,000,” Bill Huggins, associate director of building services, told The Spectator during a tour last Friday. With the opening of the new building, Hamilton will almost double the amount of theatre and studio arts designated space that it currently has.

Because theatre productions, tech workshops and studio art classes will take place under the same roof beginning next school year, Charles A. Gaetano Construction Corporation has paid close attention to noise isolation within the building. Brad Talbot, estimator and project manager for Gaetano, told The Spectator that most of the building’s ceilings and walls contain tectum panels, which buffer noise between rooms. Additionally, the floors in the building’s theaters will be acoustically raised to prevent noise pollution from other parts of the facility, except for in the practice theaters.

Aesthetically, the building’s performance spaces, classrooms and offices have a minimal and industrial design. Many of the rooms have exposed ductwork in the ceilings, which will be painted white and black to match the rooms’ walls. The floors throughout the building are made of concrete and will be polished before the building becomes open to students and the public.

The outdoor design of the building is as critical as its interior, as musical and theatrical performances will take place en plein air in the amphitheatre that the building’s horseshoe design provides. There will also be an outdoor walk-through space below the building’s critique space and hallway, called the portal. There will be entrances to the building at its rear, spilling into an exhibition space, as well as doors along the glass façade.

Natural light and visibility are essential to the appearance and use of this building. Huggins explained that Machado and Silvetti Associates, the Boston-based architectural design firm that designed the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, planned the new theatre and studio arts building to reflect and complement the museum. When standing at the center of the building’s horseshoe, it is possible to see the Wellin perfectly and even to peer through its glass (if you have excellent eyesight). The second-floor drawing and painting studios have overhead windows that let in sunlight. And Gaetano is currently installing an oculus, or ovular window, overlooking the first floor. Windows throughout the building unify it with other structures on campus, such as the Molly Root House, which had previously been isolated from most other academic buildings on campus, and Sadove Student Center.

According to Huggins, the new theatre and studio arts building is the second most expensive contracting project the College has ever taken on. At $48.6 million, about $30 million of which came from donations, the construction project cost slightly more than Kirner-Johnson but still less than Taylor Science Center.

The new facility is a large investment for the College but one that will improve the departments it supports tremendously. In addition to expanding the amount of space dedicated to these departments, the creation of new classrooms and the installation of specialized technology will allow the art department to expand its curriculum to include woodshop, iron casting and more advanced audiovisual courses. The theatre department will also have facilities for dyeing and storing fabric, enabling students to create original costumes for their productions with greater ease.

The building is set for completion in July 2014.

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