Schuler Shook News

Schuler Shook Instrumental in New Logan Center for the Arts
25 Oct 2012

More than 10 years in the making, the University of Chicago’s new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, rising high above the southern edge of the Midway Plaisance on UChicago’s Hyde Park campus, officially debuted October 12-14th to a chorus of critical accolades.

Designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in collaboration with Chicago-based Schuler Shook Theatre Planners and acoustics consultant Kirkegaard Associates, the striking, 11-story “tower of the arts” was hailed as a “boon to area audiences and arts groups” by the Chicago Sun-Times. Time Out Chicago wrote, “Though overshadowed by other disciplines, the visual and performing arts have a long history there as well…the Logan Center for the Arts now proudly, and very conspicuously, announces their presence on campus.”

The Chicago Tribune added that the Logan contains “an astounding array of specialized spaces – many so refined as to require a host of expert consultants…the architectural problem of bringing all of this together into one building was immense.”

Contributing to the answers were theatre experts Schuler Shook, who helped ensure that the designs for the successful performance spaces actually work for the artists who will use them.  The university’s decision to involve tough, demanding theatre experts from Schuler Shook and acousticians from Kirkegaard Associates helped ensure the design of successful performance and practice spaces that actually work for artists.

“The Logan Center is an ideal case study about Schuler Shook’s collaborative approach,” said Robert Shook, Partner with Schuler Shook, and planner of auditoria, audience areas, backstage operations and technical systems for hundreds of theatres around the world. In Chicago alone, Shook’s projects include Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Ravinia Festival, the Old Town School of Folk Music, the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Lookingglass Theatre and Black Ensemble Theater.

“Back in 2002, the University of Chicago tapped Schuler Shook to help develop the feasibility study for a proposed new center for the creative arts,” Shook explained. “The goal was to amplify UChicago’s long-standing interdisciplinary approach to higher education by building a new, facility that organically facilitates collaboration across disparate art forms – visual art, theatre, music, dance, cinema, art history, creative writing, and media studies.”

In their role as planners, Schuler Shook participated in needs assessment meetings with key stakeholders including students, community members, and the University’s top executive staff, faculty and staff across all disciplines. After the information gathering phase, Schuler Shook helped create the architectural “program” – a matrix of desired spaces noting square footage and general specifications assigned to each, along with the project’s more esoteric goals.

Completed in 2004, the feasibility study was first used to support preliminary fundraising efforts. It then served as the key resource document for 26 architectural firms around the US that participated in the design competition for the building. In 2007, UChicago selected Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWBTA) for the project thanks to their unconventional design concept – a long, low, skylit building of studios and theatres coupled with an 11-story “tower of the arts” that together evoke the flat prairies of the Midwest and the great skyscrapers of Chicago.

“Schuler Shook joined TWTBA from early design through completion of construction which occurred earlier this year,” said Josh Grossman, Principal at Schuler Shook and the firm’s Logan Center project leader. “Specifically, we were involved in the planning of three performance spaces, the Performance Penthouse, the theatre and dance rehearsal rooms, production workshops and all performer support spaces. Our goal was to create spaces that supported the individualized needs of various art forms while encouraging cross-pollination without compromising the capabilities of each space.”
Schuler Shook’s planning and design contributions included optimizing seating layouts and sightlines, specifying and integrating technical production systems ranging from catwalks to stage curtains, and assuring easy access backstage between the theatres and the workshops. Examples include:

• The 474-seat Performance Hall needed to be acoustically optimized for music performances, but also outfitted to accommodate dance, film, theatre and multimedia presentations, panel discussions and guest speakers. To achieve such flexibility, Schuler Shook specified the stage walls shall include pivoting, portable panels that allow the stage to be quickly adjusted to the ideal size and layout depending on the type of performance.

Theater East, with 105 fixed seats facing an open end stage, boasts unobstructed sight lines from any seat due to Schuler Shook’s expertise in staggering seat sizes and placement. Schuler Shook also designed a motorized rigging system to allow scenery and lights to be raised and lowered easily and safely, built with a high degree of flexibility to allow for current and future technologies.

• Schuler Shook’s design imprint on Theater West, a “flexible box” with variable seating configurations for as many as 185 patrons, included embedding a custom, horizontal railing system in all interior walls to allow easy attachment of scenery, lights, and equipment, thus eliminating the need to drill holes into walls. This space also has an elevated gallery that can accommodate audience seating or technical equipment, informed by the approach Schuler Shook took as theatre consultants for Lookingglass Theatre’s space inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works.

• Schuler Shook also consulted on the design of the Logan Center’s Performance Penthouse, a beautifully appointed space located 135’ above UChicago and Hyde Park, ideal for small performances, lectures and donor events, and the Film Screening Room, a 120-seat screening room uniquely equipped to show 16mm, 35mm, digital, and 3D films.
Today, artists and scholars across many arts disciplines are working, performing and creating new possibilities for spontaneous, creative collaborations in the $114 million, 184,000-square-foot Logan Center for the Arts. The building houses state-of-the-art classrooms, studios, rehearsal rooms, workshops, and exhibition and performance spaces, and is home to academic and co-curricular programs in the visual arts, music, theater and performance studies, art history, cinema and media studies, and creative writing. The Logan Center also succeeds as a new, highly visible connection between UChicago’s campus and the cultural life of the South Side and greater Chicago.

In addition to Logan Center, Schuler Shook is currently involved in two more high-profile higher education projects in Chicago – a new performance and education building for The Theatre School at DePaul University, under construction and opening in Spring 2013 on the university’s Lincoln Park campus, and a new performance and education facility for Northwestern University’s renowned Bienen School of Music, slated to open in 2015.

Photo by Tom Rossiter
Photo by Tom Rossiter