The Vukovich Center for Communication Arts is a 40,000 square foot facility dedicated to teaching theater, television and related disciplines at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college with a strong theater and liberal arts program. The Communication Arts and Theater Department desired to upgrade its facilities to enhance collaboration across the communication arts. The new facility includes rehearsal and instructional spaces, technologically-advanced video production facilities, a 250-seat theater, as well as a variety of spaces that promote informal interaction and creative collaboration.
Located on the northern edge of an existing green, the Vukovich Center completes and defines an Arts Quad distinct from the main campus. It takes advantage of existing pathways to encourage pedestrian circulation and create a dynamic new student center. Strategically inserted into the steep slope to mitigate its scale in relation to the surrounding context when viewed from the north, at the same time it presents an open, welcoming face to the south, affording the department both a front of house and back of house presence.
The building incorporates a raised outdoor terrace along the south faade, which overlooks the quad and creates an indoor-outdoor campus center. The terrace on the east side is partially enclosed by walls, forming an exterior courtyard with a link to the adjacent Henderson Campus Center which has been embraced as a place for impromptu performances and rehearsals. This central gathering space extends from the courtyard to the building interior through a low-iron glass curtain wall. Comfortable indoor-outdoor furniture reinforces the continuity of space between interior and exterior and invites people to linger and exchange ideas.
The building was conceived as a teaching theater with the deliberate absence of barriers between the front of house and back of house spaces to de-mystify the process of theater production. The lobby opens to a double-height production corridor, providing entrances, views and natural light directly to the back of house spaces such as scene shops, costume shops and dressing rooms.
The crescent-shaped proscenium-style theater is designed to foster a feeling of intimacy and bring the audience close to the stage. The traditional proscenium layout has been adapted into a flexible space that enables actors to enter and exit either backstage or through the audience, creating an engaging and participatory experience. The theater includes a technologically-advanced 50 high fly tower, with a window from the third floor faculty library offering a birds-eye view of the performances unfolding below. A variety of spaces revolve around the theater on the second and third floors to encourage creative dialogue and innovative teaching. Within the theater, the lights, sound and fly equipment are all celebrated rather than concealed, level of finish appropriate for a performing arts venue.
Exterior building materials zinc, glass, and red and dark gray iron-spot brick define a modern identity for the theater building while the interior building materials express a refined black-box aesthetic and an appreciation for the craft of theater production, speaking directly about the idea of a teaching theater. On grade with parking on the north side of the building, the roof has been developed as a refined rooftop garden environment for study and contemplation which also contributes to the energy efficiency of the building.