Extensive renovation of the more than 40-year-old Mark Taper Forums auditorium, lobbies, backstage areas, and exteriors to upgrade theatrical systems acoustics and staging, create new spaces for patrons and performers, and restore the historic Welton Becket exterior to its original condition. Further upgrades allow the building to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act ADA. The architects also employed an intricately integrated new signage program throughout the project design and answered all donor recognition requirements.
Rios Clementi Hale Studios, hired by the Music Center of Los Angeles County, is responsible for the comprehensive renovation, or Act II, of the Mark Taper Forum for the resident company Center Theatre Group. The Los Angeles-based interior design, architecture, graphic design, and landscape architecture firm employs reflective materials, metallic fabrics, and thematic curved shapesinspired by the circular Taper structureto create a refreshed interior of edgy elegance that continues the Tapers reputation as the peoples theater.
One aim of the project was to achieve both functionality and preservation objectives. Rios Clementi Hale Studios and theater consultant Sachs Morgan Studios worked together to respectfully update the building. Outdated and inefficient spaces and systems were identified, evaluated, restored, or renovated to be compatible with historically significant elements of the building. The updated interiors are directly influenced by the original glamour of the New Formalist design and were inspired by a distinct and precise tradition of craftsmanship and detailing of the original building. New finishes are modern and classic, and pay homage to the beautiful form and geometry of the 1967 Welton Becket-designed building. The renovation brings the building into an era where big productions are the norm and sensitivity to patron needs is required to remain relevant.
The architects fully enhanced the interior spaces with modern amenities for patrons and expanded the backstage areas for the actors and production teams. While maintaining the footprint of the original 1967 building, the architects cleverly carved out found space within the facility to better serve patrons and crew. From the newly configured entrance into the lobby that showcases an original Tony Duquette mural, to the auditorium with all-new seating, and the expansive lower-level lounge addition that provides patrons with larger restroom facilities, the architects successfully upgraded the space and added accommodations for disabled patrons. The multidisciplinary firm worked closely with the client to design new environmental graphics, including donor recognition walls and plaques, and all interior and exterior wayfinding signage to seamlessly complement the design of the theater.
The renovation allows for additional and more-spacious interior areas for the Tapers audience and artists. By reducing the ticket booth size, raising the lobby floor to be flush with the exterior ground plane, and moving the restrooms downstairs, the architects open up the lobby to present a more fitting entrance showcasing the original Tony Duquette abalone tile wall. The existing curved mosaic, whose mottled metallic green hues inspired much of the projects color palette, is accented with new lightingoverhead and belowand a stainless-steel, flat-top guardrail to protect the abalone tiles while offering guests a place to set drinks during intermission. Extruded aluminum ceiling fins radiating from the abalone wall, along with integrated strip lighting, create a dynamic ceiling pattern. Aluminum also spans the length of the abalone wall, under the ceiling fins, and acts as a backdrop for the stainless-steel Brindell and Milton GottliebAct II sign. Terrazzo flooring reflects the tones and colors of the abalone shells, while continuing the mottled and shimmery look. With the more-spacious lobby, patrons are provided with easier access to a wet bar highlighted with zebra-wood cabinetry and varying-height black countertops.
Rios Clementi Hale Studios positioned the Mark Taper Forum Foundation donor wall, highlighting names of individuals and organizations that contributed to the renovation of the theater, across from the abalone wall. The sleek stainless-steel name plates are positioned on a stationary cable system that surrounds a bust of real estate developer and philanthropist Mark Taper, whose 1962 gift to the Los Angeles Music Center led to the theaters name. The architects designed a four-foot-high base for the bust with Noir Saint Laurent marble, which is also found throughout the lower-level lounge areas. At the opposite end of the lobby, the Artistic Directors Circle recognizes donors who have made commitments to Center Theatre Groups productions and programs. This wall called for an interchangeable system, so the names may be updated as commitments change. Member levelsemerald, ruby, sapphire, and diamondare noted on stainless-steel signs while donor names are placed on bronze. To the left of the nameplates, the architects designed a curved wall niche and marble base to display the bust of Artistic Directors Circle founder Milton Gottlieb.
A long curved concrete wall leading to the stairs exposes the interior side of the lobbys exterior wall to emphasize the beauty of the historic Welton Becket design. A metal mesh curtain draped in front of the concrete wall and a polished stainless-steel guardrail guide visitors down the staircase to the new lower-level Marcia Israel Foundation Lounge. Disabled patrons gain easier access to the lower-level facility as well as to the upper-level lobby with the new guest elevator, the first to be located within the Taper.
The new lounge is a comfortable, contemporary space. Rios Clementi Hale Studios gained additional square footage by utilizing a portion of the underground parking garage to extend the theater space, adding plentiful room for the 1,350-square-foot lounge. The broad curves of the walls reflect the overall shape of the building, giving the illusion that the lounge existed originally. The custom-designed, polished aluminum ceiling continues the circular motif and subtly recalls ripples of water in the reflecting ponds surrounding the circular Taper structure on the plaza level above.
The circular flow of the restrooms directs patrons into the facilities, providing immediate access to the stalls, which cater to twice as many guests as before. Guests are then led back out to the lounge for a quick, in-and-out flow. A 12-foot-diameter marble centerpiece that functions as a hand-washing station on one side and a primping counter on the other side distinguishes the extra-spacious ladies room. In the center of the circular structure, rotating oval mirrors seem to blossom from the countertop. Each is affixed to a stainless-steel stem extending to the ceiling.
To uphold the auditoriums special intimacy between the audience and actors, the architects retain the signature stage configuration, while improving both acoustics and backstage areas. The auditorium itself brings together a family of rich materials and colors in the custom, multicolored carpeting with an interlocking-circle motif, zebrawood walls, and walnut-trimmed ceiling. The walls behind the audience are painted in dark grey and olive green hues to match the stage, railings throughout the seating area, and overhead acoustic baffles and ceiling structure. New, larger seating was installed, along with accessible ADA-compliant seating options. All are upholstered with plush, green mohair fabric.
The stage was rebuilt and offstage areas were enlarged to allow greater flexibility. The east stage loading doors were opened up slightly to give crews better maneuverability for loading sets. The new elevator reaches from Mezzanine Level to the Garage, which aids in loading props and costumes.
The back of house and technical areas were completely renovated. The design team worked closely with the Music Center and Center Theatre Group to improve production and maximize the use of the space. The sound design is now ideally on the same level as the audience, while all of the technical spaces on the Mezzanine Level above have a clear view of the stage. The ceiling grid and catwalk system was rebuilt and streamlined to allow crewmembers to circulate to all parts of the building from the Mezzanine Level. New lighting positions and carefully placed acoustical baffles have improved the theater production and allowed new theatrical effects to take place.
The architects not only provided theatergoers with more substantial spaces, but also expanded and rearranged the backstage areas for the actors and production team. Dressing and chorus rooms were redistributed and updated to be more comfortable for the cast, and now include ample space for hair and makeup, as well as for wardrobe. Again creating extra space, the architects moved updated mechanical equipment from a 900-square-foot mechanical room to the roof. The green room is at the bottom of a new staircase, and gives the cast and crew a comfortable meeting place, which they see as the new central nervous system of the production process. The hallways are painted with vibrant greens, yellows, and oranges that act as a way-finding device, but also speak to the activity and excitement of the theater.
Beyond creating the extensive interior upgrades, Rios Clementi Hale Studios maintained and restored the exterior architecture of the building to its original condition, including the precast-cement mural by artist Jacques Overhoff. The original graphic language of the exterior signage throughout the Taper was maintained with newly made lettering in the Scala Sans font. The existing canopy was also repaired and a new stainless-steel Mark Taper Forum sign was added. The entry into the theater was made ADA compliant by removing the existing steps and raising the entry 18 inches for a smooth transition from the plaza to the lobby. Furthermore, the architects revamped the outdoor lighting, providing dramatic illumination to the reflecting pools and to the Overhoff mural. The colonnade wrapping around the Taper and The Ahmanson Theatre next door was also relit and restored to dramatic glory.
Rios Clementi Hale Studios encompasses myriad talents in one firm. Established in 1985, this extraordinary practice has developed an international reputation for its collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach, establishing an award-winning tradition across an unprecedented range of design disciplines. The architecture, landscape architecture, planning, urban, interior, exhibit, graphic, and product designers at Rios Clementi Hale Studios delight in projects as diverse as a new headquarters for The California Endowment, to the Terminator2 3D attraction at Universal City, to the popular retail line of notNeutral home wares, and numerous private residences. Rios Clementi Hale Studios creates buildings, places, and products that are thoughtful, effective, and beautiful.