Capital projects are never easy. Making the decision to build, demolish, or refurbish requires clarity of purpose and engaged stakeholders. A lot of money doesn't hurt, either.
This issue of the Insider offers insight from a few of our members whose capital projects and perspectives are quite literally all over the map. We also hear from an experienced theater designer on the evolution of performances spaces and what goes into deciding how and what to create or renovate.
The Sydney Opera House has been home to thousands of inspiring performances since opening in 1973. More than 1.5 million people attend more than 2000 performances each year. Another 600,000 pay to take a tour and see first-hand how the magic happens (this number has doubled in the past few years). Millions more visit its award-winning restaurants and bars, and still more visit the Opera House online – taking a virtual tour, attending a digital classroom or experiencing a livestream event.
The Opera House has worked hard for 45 years and its age is beginning to show in some areas. For example, the original theatre equipment is nearing the end of its useful life; the community’s expectations in technology, safety and accessibility standards have changed significantly over the decades; some of the heavily used public areas need to be refreshed; and the Opera House wasn’t built with the expectation that it would become Australia’s premier tourist destination.
This wonder of 20th-century architecture is now being renewed for the 21st century, ensuring it meets the needs and expectations of future generations of artists, audience and visitors.
Renewal is all about ensuring that the Opera House continues to lift the human spirit, both as a work of human creative genius itself and through the art forms presented throughout the precinct – whether that is classical art forms inside the House, contemporary music and performance inside and out, children’s programming, or talks and ideas events.
The Concert Hall upgrade is the next major project in the suite of Stage 1 Renewal projects, which will ensure we are properly equipped to welcome as many people in as many ways as possible. It follows the $71 million-dollar Renewal works in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, completed on time and on budget on New Year’s Eve 2017. This includes $26 million investment to improve accessibility and safety in the venue, as well as an elegant new passage and lifts to enable level access to all areas of the harbourside Northern Foyer for the first time.
The Renewal works are largely funded by the New South Wales Government, which has committed $202 million towards the Concert Hall and entry and foyers upgrades, and the new creative learning and function centre. Current projects at various stages of construction and planning include:
Concert Hall upgrades to improve acoustics, accessibility, stage and backstage areas, and replace end-of-life theatre systems. This will be the most significant work undertaken in the Concert Hall since it opened in 1973;
A new Creative Learning Centre will provide children and young people with a dedicated space to experiment and learn in a building that embodies creativity and innovation;
Entry and foyers upgrades will transform the area under the Monumental Steps and the main box office foyer, including improving accessibility through the addition of escalators and lifts and streamlining functions; and
A new function centre worthy of the Opera House is being built within the building envelope to celebrate significant events and mark important occasions – from weddings and intimate gatherings to community and government events.
How do you address the needs of each stakeholder?
Continued and extensive stakeholder engagement will be crucial to our success. To date, we have undertaken more than 160 briefings with stakeholder groups about our Renewal plans, from the accessibility, architectural and heritage communities to government agencies, corporate partners, donors, local residents and the community more broadly.
In addition, the Opera House’s independent Eminent Architects Panel and the Conservation Council have been intimately involved in the development of the design proposals, ensuring they align with Jørn Utzon’s Design Principles and are in keeping with our World Heritage listing and recently updated Conservation Management Plan (Fourth Edition).
In 2016, Fundación Nacional Batuta (FNB), a non-profit organization dedicated to musical training for vulnerable children and youngsters throughout Colombia, made the decision to build a small auditorium with maximum capacity for 85 musicians on stage and 230 seats, given the size of the plot available for the project. Two factors were decisive for this initiative: the intention of the previous District Administration to initiate a process of expropriation of the lot adjacent to the administrative headquarters of Batuta (owned by Batuta), and the approval and enforcement of the Public Spectacles Law, that allocates resources for the construction, renovation and improvement of spaces for performing arts in Colombia. These two regulations (from our perspective, one negative and one very positive), motivated us to fulfill a goal we had since 1992, which – mainly due to economic reasons – had not been possible. To stop the process of expropriation of the lot, Batuta had first to obtain the construction license. To gain this approval, it was necessary to have due authorization of the District Institute of Cultural Heritage and the Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture. This was to be an intervention within the Historic Center of Bogota (an area known as La Candelaria) where regulation aims at preserving the historical and patrimonial values that characterize the sector.
The design is currently in the process of approval by the city’s Urban Curator, as established in the framework of urban development standards, and includes a two-story building and a basement for storage, classified as a zonal-scale cultural facility. The project represents for FNB – an organization that has 45 young symphony orchestras, 700 musical initiation ensembles and about 300 children's choirs – the possibility of having a space we can call our own for public performances. It will also generate articulations with other musical training and practice initiatives in Bogota, the whole country and the rest of the world.
Since this dream began, we have had two main allies working on the integral design: Gal2 + MMIT Arquitectos, an architectural design firm from Spain with offices in Bilbao, Santander, Bogota and Lima; and ARUP, an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists who work in all aspects of contemporary construction and who, in this case, have generously provided the technical support for acoustic design.
How do you address the needs of each stakeholder? Has this changed during the lifecycle of the project?
The target of FNB includes the children, teenagers and youngsters that benefiit from our musical training programs, as well as their families, music teachers and social workers involved with the organization, cultural managers and other employees, the Board of Directors, the National Government, the District Government, regional bodies, entrepreneurs and international cooperation organizations, among others.
The objective of this project is to build an auditorium that will be permanently used by our direct benefiiciaries (our children and their families). It will be a space to develop sustainability projects of interest to our funders (Government entities and private companies). It also represents an opportunity for joint projects with other organizations similar to FNB in Colombia (e.g.: Children’s and Young Music Training System - Bogota, Children's and Young Orchestra Network Medellin, Children's Orchestra Network Pasto, etc.), and other peer organizations abroad (The System - Venezuela, Guri Santa Marcelina - Sao Paulo, Ecos de Jalisco-Mexico, Sinfonía por el Peru, among many others). Moreover, the auditorium will welcome our technical assistance allies: professors and students from conservatoires and music schools around the world, professional musicians, volunteers, workshop coordinators, orchestral directors, etc. It will undoubtedly be a space to generate creative and innovative projects in musical practice.
What advice would you give an industry peer who will be going through a capital process?
My advice to my peers who want to venture into the design and construction of an auditorium comes from my friend Claudia Toni, from Brazil: “Get advice from real experts. This is a highly complex matter”. Having the interest and support of Spanish architects and ARUP has been a great blessing, largely springing from the network promoted by ISPA.
Another piece of advice is to have the endorsement and permanent support of the Board of Directors. In the case of FNB, our Board includes the president of a highly renowned construction firm in Colombia. This has facilitated problem solving and process completion.
My third piece of advice is to follow the three tips of the Japanese children's book Grandpa Toad’s Secrets, by Keiko Kasza: “be brave, be astute and have friends to count on”.
The thing that’s kept me interested in what I do for more than thirty years is the way the field keeps changing, and the kinds of cultural buildings we are asked to design keeps changing, too. It’s been fascinating to watch that happen, and to work closely with artists and cultural leaders to figure out where it’s all going next and how to respond.
Buildings that were designed for the business and funding models of the 1950s through the 1990s are all being reevaluated today in light of new economic realities, cost structures, funder priorities, artist interests, and audience expectations. We’ve found ourselves massively renovating some of the seminal buildings of the last century to help them deal with new missions and new economics; places like the National Arts Center in Ottawa, the Arena Stage in Washington DC, and of course Lincoln Center, where we’ve already done over a billion dollars of transformation and still have further projects in mind.
At the same time, we’ve seen shifts in practice and expectation that are leading to the development of new building types, and we’ve been excited to be able to play a role in developing new facility concepts that I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of. Our Park Avenue Armory project is a great example of an idea about flexible space on a colossal industrial scale that artists are invited to engage with, with the support of a well-funded commissioning organization. It’s a sort of sister project to Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum Germany and the other Ruhr Valley venues that are used by the Ruhr Triennale Festival each year; found spaces that embrace and empower artists. It’s so interesting that we’re now working on The Shed in New York City’s Hudson Yards which is, in a sense, a newly made building that will provide a similar scale of found space for ambitious, large-scale work. I think it represents a new venue type, in fact, that will be refined and repeated in different cities at different scales because of the exciting, unconventional range of work it can inspire and accommodate.
A related trend is the flat-floored general-admission music venue. We’ve done one in Washington DC called the Anthem which can accommodate roughly 6,000 for live music, and we’re planning others for traditional performing arts centers at scales ranging from 1,200 to 3,000 that will be able to host popular music, but also non-traditional presentations of classical music, opera, dance, and drama. In some ways this is a variation on the Armory / Shed model that is less about the sheer scale of the architecture and more about the flexibility and broad appeal of a casual, non-traditional, flat-floored space that is well equipped to sell drinks and provide catering support. I’m sure we will be doing a lot more of those in the near future.
Another altogether healthy trend is an increased comfort on the part of younger classical musicians with amplification and technology. Spaces like Michael Tilson Thomas’ SoundBox for the San Francisco Symphony; essentially a huge studio theater for musical performance that relies heavily on sophisticated electronic architecture signal processing and amplification to make it work. Classical and contemporary chamber music is performed here in an informal setting with several cash bars, movable furniture groupings, portable stage platforms, theatrical lighting, and extensive video projection, making this a kind of live jazz club / rock club setting for everything from percussion ensembles to string quartets, but never in the way you’re used to seeing it.
But this too will evolve. In my career I’ve seen the focus of performing arts construction shift from enormous cultural complexes with dedicated concert halls, opera houses, and theaters in large and secondary markets, to multi-purpose halls in smaller and smaller markets that couldn’t support multiple buildings. Then I saw organizations in those smaller towns outgrow the multi-purpose venues that had nurtured them and build their own purpose-built concert halls and opera houses, but at smaller and more satisfying seating capacities than had been the norm in the 1960s. Then changes in the economy and the business model for presenting organizations forced a new focus on earned revenue and we found ourselves thinking about public spaces and public amenities in new ways to drive income and attract audiences. Artists, too, have become less interested in working in conventional ways and have sought out non-traditional spaces, and arts presenters struggle to find new ways to make their old buildings relevant, or start to consider abandoning them and replacing them with something new. And as I said, new types of venues are evolving as we speak.
This change plays out in different ways on different timelines in all parts of the world, at different scales, and in different cultures and economic models. That’s what still keeps me interested in coming to work in the morning — I’m curious to help identify and address the newest challenges that artists and the world throw at us.
ISPA Insider is a quarterly newsletter that explores timely topics of interest to the global performing arts community featuring the voices of our members.