The Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts (PICA) needed a temporary theatre for its second annual international arts festival — Time-Based Art — last fall, so it called upon BOORA Architects, who could spend no more than $10,000, plus the theatre was to be housed in an empty warehouse.
While the budget and the locale were both challenges, Michael Tingley, principal in charge and lead architect, BOORA, says that the builders were not exactly skilled labor; they were local volunteers pitching in. “It changed the process of how we worked,” he explains. “Rather than producing a set of drawings and thinking through every detail, we had the scaffolding framework installed and created a couple of mockups ourselves from the kit of materials that the volunteers could work from.”
That kit of materials Tingley mentions included 200 five-gallon plastic buckets, 70 half-inch MDF boards, Visqueen plastic membrane, and 200 recycled carpet tiles. The buckets were purchased from Home Depot with the understanding that they would be returned after the festival. PARR Lumber donated the MDF boards, Interface Flooring donated the carpet tiles, R & H Construction donated professional labor to build-out the space, and eight volunteers from BOORA donated their time to create the Machineworks Theater in a vacant warehouse loaned to PICA by Machineworks, LLC.
The buckets were the base of audience seating in the 200-seat theatre, and Tingley marvels at how they well they worked in the project. “Since we understood the technical and dimensional requirements of a theatre in terms of audience comfort and seating height, we were able to take these pieces and make something that had the right dimensions to it for the seating foundation,” he says. The seating platforms were secured on top of the buckets and then covered with the carpet samples thus creating a comfortable theatre for performers and audiences alike.
While audiences were delighted by the novelty of the one-off theatre, the performers found that the venue was exactly what they needed, especially considering that some of the performances could be considered “experimental.” For instance, a dance group wanted to perform one night in a shallow pool of water and the next night in a massive bed of flour. “Not many official theatres wanted to take the risk and challenges of clean up,” Tingley says.
To overcome the vastness of the warehouse, the design team used one bay of the building's structural system for the stage, allowing the four steel columns defining it to frame the stage. Volunteers used an overhead crane that was left in the space to rig the theatrical lighting. Designers separated the remaining space within the warehouse by a long scaffold wall faced with pegboard and Visqueen plastic. Since the wall's interior was built of scaffolding, it provided an ideal location for technical equipment, transformers, cabling, and even an elevated control room. The remainder of the warehouse space was used for the TBA Festival's after-hours programming, including a cabaret stage, a bar, and café.
Since the theatre has been disassembled, BOORA Architects has received a number of awards for the project including an Honor Award and a Juror's Choice Award from the International Interior Design Association, a Merit Award and the People's Choice Award from the American Institute of Architects, and an Honor Award from USITT.