Charles R Walgreen, Jr Drama Center & Arthur Miller Theatre – KPM Architects
The Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center is the new home for the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama. The project comprises the Arthur Miller Theatre, named after the esteemed American playwright and alumnus of the University of Michigan, and the academic and administrative spaces of the Department of Theatre and Drama.
The programs for performance, teaching and administration are resolved within two, interconnected idealized forms: a cubic glass volume which houses the Arthur Miller Theatre, and long, elegantly proportioned “learning loft’ which houses the departments of theatre and drama. The massing is sited to strategically create a stronger presence for the North Campus. The Arthur Miller Theatre serves as a cornerstone which marks the entrance to the North Campus, while the grand portico façade of the North Campus Auditorium building defines the western edge of the quad. The expression adopts the richness and urbanity of the main campus.
The stately cube of the Arthur Miller Theatre represents the most public component of the Walgreen Drama Centre and provides a new cultural destination which will attract a broader audience to the University of Michigan. Formally it consists of a concrete block building which houses a 250-seat courtyard style theatre, and sits on a multi-tone base. It is wrapped in translucent glass envelope which defines a 40 foot high space that is visible from the North campus quad. A concrete column portico defines the exterior actors terrace, with wood benches between the columns encourage the space to be used for gathering and interaction. The exterior evokes the transformative and illusory effects of theatre – by day it acts as a dignified elegant volume, by night it becomes an alluring luminous glass beacon. The sandblasted concrete exterior face of the theatre which presents itself to the main lobby. A steel and glass suspended stair connects the theatre from the mezzanine to the second floor academic wing, evoking a theatrical set piece.
The inside of the Arthur Miller Theatre is designed in the form of a courtyard theatre to maximize flexibility for showcasing both professional and student performances. While the interior of the theatre is deliberately minimal, details such as custom stained white oak leaning rails for seating parterres add tactile and visual warmth.
The learning loft for the teaching and administrative spaces of the Department of Theatre and Drama stretches eastward from the theatre. It contains three flexible 150-seat performance/teaching studios on ground level. A glass corridor connects the studios and provides a window through which theatre students can be seen practicing. Each studio is painted a unique color. A custom stained white oak floor in the Towsley Studio for Musical Theatre provides additional acoustical performance. The ground floor also houses a full scene shop as a teaching facility and production space for the performance venues. The 2nd floor of the loft houses the academic administration offices overlooking the theatre lobby, design studios, a full production costume shop and faculty offices.
The overall interior is minimal, limited to concrete floors and white walls to provide a quiet backdrop against with the creative energy and expression of performance can be foregrounded.