The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, which opened in September 2007, was the first major performing arts facility built in the metro Atlanta areas in four decades. Designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates architects, the facility boasts 181,000 square feet, including the 2,750-seat multipurpose John A. Williams Theatre—home to the Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet, and intended to double as a roadhouse for Broadway musicals, other touring productions, and popular entertainment.

“It was designed as a roadhouse and as such is very utilitarian,” points out Michael Nishball of Theatre Projects Consultants, the firm responsible for the programming, concept design, theatre planning, performance equipment design, and specification for the Cobb Center. The consultants report that the cool thing about the project is that while designed as a large roadhouse, it has nicely morphed into a very comfortable performing art center embraced by the community. Not only has the theatre proved to very successful for opera, “Like a people’s opera, the Volksopera in Vienna,” says Nishball. “The result is better than presentation opera in a roadhouse.”

“Equipment-wise, there is a full complement of counterweight rigging by JR Clancy with chain compensation to smooth out the imbalance inherent in this kind of system,” explains Nishball. Ladder battens are also part of the rigging system. A high-load-capacity grid with a distributed system of chain motors allows all kinds of touring shows to load-in easily. The acoustics—by Kirkegaard Associates—can be adjusted using drapes in the upper portion of the auditorium.

The seating capacity of 2,750 is broken down into orchestra level (1,057), mezzanine (620), and grand tier seating (961), plus 14 private boxes. Various orchestra pit configurations provide additional audience seats if needed, with a Gala Spiralift in the pit.

Nishball was extremely complementary in terms of the architectural lighting: “Ted Ferreria did one of the best jobs we’ve seen. He really understood the nature of the project, especially in lighting the translucent diamond shapes in the auditorium. His work is dynamic, and it’s clear that Ted has a theatre background when you see his architectural work.”

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Cobb Center.