(New York City, December 1, 2011) About to make its debut on January 31st, Frank Gehry's $66 million home for The Signature Theater Company got a first look by the design and theater press at a hard-hat tour led by the architect and Signature Theater Company artistic director James Houghton.
A featured RECORD On the Boards in August 2010 — http://archrecord.construction.com/news/daily/archives/2010/08/100824_signature_center_gehry.asp — the 70,000-square-foot project is still under construction, but shaping up to the promise of Gehry Partners' early renderings and models, flexible spatial configurations sheathed in variegated plywood planes. Located at the base of 480 West 42nd Street — a recently completed glazed apartment/hotel tower designed by Arquitectonica just three blocks from Times Square — the expansive complex spans a city block and houses three intimate theaters, a smaller studio/rehearsal space, and a large central lobby with a concierge, book store, café, and interactive media wall.
The lobby, says Houghton, is meant to be an intersection or hub where everyone and everything converges from all of the theaters and from the street. The Signature Center is designed around the notion of access, he explains. So he and his team worked closely with Gehry Partners to create generous spaces, "using modest materials that speak to who we are as a company." Productions will include works by veteran playwrights Edward Albee, Athol Fugard, and John Guare, as well as emerging artists — with a $25 ticket price for all seats and performances.
Gehry, who began working with Houghton eight years ago when the project was slated for the performing arts venue at the World Trade Center site, admits he was skeptical about the move to a development already in the works. "It was pretty challenging. Buildings that are built for real estate are not friendly to this kind of effort, and yet [the developer] Related Company has turned out to be very helpful, as has the city."
Despite existing the columns and structure, the architects rose to the challenge and carved theaters out of one level rather than stacking them (always an issue in terms of acoustics) as they would have in the downtown location. And, the tight budget compelled Gehry to infuse character into the rooms through texture and dimension..."something for people respond to."
"My team and I love working in theater, music, and art," says Gehry. "The 'guy' said all the world's a stage. I believe that. And to make that magic happen with an architectural component that supports and facilitates it is a great honor...But," he concludes, "[This project] is not finished! I can't wait to come to the opening." To be continued.