Arup was commissioned by Mikhail Baryshnikov and the Baryshnikov Arts Center to re-imagine the unusable assembly space on the third and fourth floors of the 37 Arts building. The challenge was to take the tall concrete box and create a new and dynamic performance laboratory and art creation space for dance, movement, and music, but, if that wasn’t challenge enough, BAC’s creative partner, the renowned technical theatre company, The Wooster Group, would share the venue as a resident company.
Leading the design, theatre planner David Taylor absorbed the brief from Baryshnikov and his company. Wooster Group’s artistic director Elizabeth LaCompte, with acousticians Raj Patel and Rachid Abu Hassan from Arup’s integrated theatre and acoustics team in New York and veteran theatre architect Marty Kappell of WASA/Studio A, floated a range of options for the complicated little box, high up in a land-locked site on 37th Street in Manhattan. Core to the design was technical facility and excellent acoustics for the range of events envisaged, but the theatre also needed to change the paradigm of under-achieving spaces for dance and movement in New York.
Kappell and Taylor’s design floats a tight, steep but friendly auditorium in from the shear concrete walls of the theatre box. Having demolished the poorly integrated balcony of the original building, the team set about making an intimate but flexible theatre space with 238 bench seats, complete with a high balcony with excellent views of dance patterns on the deep stage below. Baryshnikov tasked the team with making a tight seating zone, but which was ergonomically comfortable with great sightlines to a raised stage in the room, or even an extended flat floor, clear to the walls—both meaningful new dance-theatre and found space.
Leading the theatre consulting team, Arup’s Jim Niesel created a highly equipped theatre environment, with useful multi-function technical galleries along the stage walls and a full complement of digitally-controlled motorized flying winches which run on trolleys up and down stage to allow for deployment by the technicians where they need them for lighting, scenery, and sound. Using the unique Arup SoundLab, the space in all its configurations was modeled and auralized for the client, design team, and users, allowing them understand the integration of quiet building systems and hear the space and design decisions before the venue was constructed.
Quiet systems and clever integrated adjustable and fixed acoustics systems have made the space perfect for the Wooster Group, whose media-based experimental shows, typified by the complex, North Atlantic, which opened the new venue, excel in the new theatre. With unusual clarity for a New York venue, the sound effects spin around the room and envelope the audience, controlled from an integrated media control cockpit located by Arup in the middle of the main orchestra seating. Jennifer Tipton’s production lighting utilizes a distributed lighting Ethernet backbone, an extensive complement of dimmers and integration with Arup’s architectural lighting design and control.
Arup and WASA/Studio A’s design approach for the new Jerome Robbins Theatre sets a new benchmark for integrated, collaborative extreme user-responsive design for small performance spaces.
Architect: WASA/Studio A (Marty Kappell, Dex Ott, Laura Boynton)
Integrated Theatre and Acoustics Team: Arup
David Taylor, theatre planner and designer
Rachid Abu-Hassan, senior acoustician
Jim Niesel, senior theatre consultant
Joe Chapman, systems design
Rich Fisher, lighting design
Dave Rife, acoustician
General contractor: Alcon
Rigging and draperies: PDO and Northeast Stage
Seating and platforms: Steeldeck, NY
Electrical contractor: OC Electric
Performance lighting: PRG
Sound, video, and comms systems: AVI/SPL
16 Powerlift hoists
15 30’-0” battens
Variable speed up to 20 fpm
Out trim: 27’-7”
1 18x12 ballroom truss
1 32’-0” ladder batten
Dimmers: ETC Sensor 264 no. @ 2.4kw
ETC ION 2000 console
Unison Paradigm house/worklight controller
Digital network of CAT 5 and fiber optic
Ether-sound digital audio network
238 total on Steeldeck ergonomic benches