Background and Context
Founded in 1963, Hartford Stage began in a former grocery store warehouse on Kinsley Street and has grown to be a respected creative institution. The Tony award-winning theatre established itself as a major cultural resource by producing a range of works from Molière to Beckett and Shakespeare to Genet. Hartford Stage has developed and sustained an important creative, cultural and educational position within the city. Its strong commitment to community partnerships, educational programs and humanities initiatives has made theatrical productions relevant and accessible to audiences of all ages. Today it provides a vital home for artists from around the country.
With the exception of minor alterations, the Hartford Stage Company building, located at 50 Church Street, remained largely unchanged since its design and completion by Pritzker laureate Robert Venturi in 1976. In 2013, JCJ Architecture was retained to evaluate alterations to the exterior and improvements to a number of interior spaces. These changes represented the first significant renovations to an important Hartford architectural, cultural and community landmark. The alterations were intended to:
- Update the exterior with utmost respect to the original design
- Create a more dynamic, welcoming and experiential approach with the intention of bringing the theater “to the street”
- Provide areas for queuing, gathering and hosting that would create a more comfortable and social experience for patrons
- Create a timeless design that would appeal to and support the experience of all theater goers, including those from different generations and those with physical limitations
- Deliver a more highly functional environment for theater-goers, employees and performers. Incorporate technology that would provide a more seamless and contemporary theater experience
- Tie the HSC in a direct and tangible way to changes underway in the City which are intended to make the Hartford more walkable, sustainable, creative and welcoming
Interventions to the exterior balanced respect for Venturi’s design with creating a new and more dynamic connection to the City and providing a better patron experience.
Interventions to the exterior balanced respect for Venturi’s design with the creation of a new and more dynamic connection to the City and providing a better patron experience.
New Building Entry: Addressing relocation of the HSC’s box office was a crucial. The limited area around the box office and its relationship to the entry frequently pushed patron queuing outside the building and diminished the amount of space available in the lobby for pre-function gathering. The box office was moved to the new entry lobby and an understated glass enclosed vestibule was designed to solve box office queuing issues. The glass enclosure provided a building form that accepted the seamless integration of new digital marquee – providing increased visibility for HSC on Main and Trumbull Streets. With replacement of doors into the theater lobby, greater visibility from Church Street into the main lobby was achieved.
Elevator Access: The glass form of the lobby was extending to accommodate the addition of a new elevator. This approach eliminated loss of valuable floor space and allowed the team to extend the design vocabulary vertically.
Exterior Plaza: With increased light coming from the new lobby, the existing plaza reinforces the theme of hospitality and welcome, allowing the plaza to become more integrated and to be used for gathering and welcoming of patrons.
The design team balanced project constraints with a desire for increased comfort and updated areas for gathering and hospitality.
The theater lobby was redesigned to be more suitable for pre function activity. A curved paneled wall created with niches to accommodate areas to display costumes, awards and recognition; monitors were inset into wall feature to create dynamic display.
Sleek and contemporary finishes used in the box office vestibule were extended into the building.
The upper level was redesigned and now features a refurbished service bar and gallery for display on HSC productions and original costumes. Opportunities for donor naming were created in the gallery and upper lobby.
All theater seating was replaced and better sightlines were established.
Mechanical systems were upgraded in order to balance comfort in both the audience and performer environments. Acoustic controls were added to dampen sound.
Budget, Schedule and Construction
Phased and Fast Track. With the facility only available for construction in the off-season, the design team needed to develop an approach to project implementation that would keep the project on track. These full-size projects needed to be accomplished within an 8-10 week time frame, therefore seamless coordination and decision making with owner and construction manager was crucial.