"A theater is a strange animal of a building," says Jennifer Mallard of Diamond + Schmitt Architects. While theaters always pose technical hurdles, in the case of the newly completed Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C., there were unusual constraints and challenges, says Mallard, who was the project architect. To start, the theater is sited in a mixed-use building — the three stories owned by the Shakespeare Theatre Company lie immediately below the offices of a bricklayer's union. "They have different hours and routines, and there are acoustic isolation concerns." In some of the shows, "you have pyrotechnics going off below an office building."
Then there was the request from donor Sidney Harman, who stipulated that his funds only support a multipurpose venue, not one that would exclusively show Shakespeare.
The solutions Mallard's team created were elegant and evidently successful. Harman's demand for flexibility proved to be a boon to the theater, which these days is often rented out by groups presenting everything from jazz concerts to chamber music. Although the new space is twice as large as the neighboring Lansburgh Theatre (also owned by the Shakespeare Theatre Company), each of the 775 seats in Sidney Harman Hall is "quite close to the stage." With the completion of Harman, the company effectively triples its capacity: The older Lansburgh can show one program, while the movable components in the Harman allow two shows to be produced on alternating nights.
Attendance was up by more than 25 percent in early 2008, and roughly 2,000 additional seats have been sold per show. Anecdotal evidence supports the numbers: "The Washington Ballet loves" the intimate space, according to Mallard, and the venue has been popular with the Washington Performing Arts Society. The hall has been in high demand since opening last year. "Its first year has been a phenomenal success," says Mallard. "It's been working overtime."
Sidney Harman Hall
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