Sidney Harman Hall opens
Diamond and Schmitt Architects have designed Sidney Harman Hall, the new theatre in Washington DC for the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Sidney Harman Hall is a significant project for Washington D.C. as the Shakespeare Theatre Company has played a considerable role in revitalizing the downtown’s historic business district which had become somewhat of a no-mans-land after the riots in the 90s. Sidney Harman Hall is a centrepiece in the revitalization of this part of DC and in recognition of this, the City has contributed $20 million to the project.
The original plan for Sidney Harman Hall was to place the theatre within an office building with almost no street presence. The theatre was to have been contained entirely within the office building posing a number of problems for the theatre and office tower. The design put forth offered an elegant solution to these problems allowing the theatre greater exposure, with transparent lobbies animating the street and adding vibrancy to the surrounding district. The theatre itself is also unique. The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s artistic director Michael Kahn calls it “the most flexible theatre in the world”. It can transform from a proscenium theatre, to a thrust or an arena configuration. To that end, Diamond and Schmitt have built a lot of flexibility into the space. The proscenium arch is designed much like a Venetian blind: it consists of a series of panels that retract by winch. Once retracted, the unit can be moved beneath the fly opening and then flown out of sight, leaving an open or bare “end” stage.
In sum the result is to provide public places with a strong visual relationship with the surrounding city, audience comfort, excellent sightlines and acoustics, operating efficiencies and exceptional configuration and acoustic flexibility.