Hawaiian barn takes centre stage

Monday 02 Sep 2013

Seabury Hall Creative Arts Barn by Flansburgh Architects victorious in Awards

After all the excitement that emanated from the shortlist for the WAN Performing Spaces Award a winner was finally agreed.

The judging panel for the day comprised: Chris Cotton, Chief Executive of the Royal Albert Hall; Michael Hammond, Editor in Chief of World Architecture News; Raj Patel, Principal at Arup Acoustics; David Staples, Principal Consultant for Theatre Projects; and Roger Watts, Associate Director at Haworth Tompkins.

Chris Cotton began by stating: “It’s been a fascinating morning and I think it’s really interesting to see how many Performing Spaces there are around the world. I think it’s brilliant to see how the Performing Arts are, in my view, very alive and well.” He noted how encouraging it was that so many schools and college projects had been entered as they represent the performers and audiences of the future.

David Staples paid tribute to the depth of breadth of the projects from huge performing arts centres and opera houses to small, urban intimate projects and commended how the architects conjured up such creative responses for dealing with the ‘diversity and richness of the Performing Arts’.

In the end however, there had to be winner, and the project that shone through the fierce competition was Seabury Hall Creative Arts Barn by Flansburgh Architects in Makawao, Hawaii. Michael Hammond said: “I love this building; totally original and refreshingly exciting spaces…it’s a barn, but not as we know it!”

This project is an assembly and performance space for Seabury Hall, a college preparatory school in Makawao on the island of Maui, replacing an existing building that wasn’t fit for purpose. It comprises a 400-seat theatre with multiple seating configurations along with exhibit space for student work, an outdoor workspace and gathering space where students can work on scenery or rehearse during the day, use as backstage space during a performance, or use as a performance space.

In short it is an incredibly flexible, functional building but was designed with a sensitive barn aesthetic showing sensitivity to the surrounding landscape as well as the students in it. It is not an intimidating or imposing space so young people feel less inhibited and can concentrate solely on performance, as opposed to first night nerves.

Roger Watts summed up the unanimity of the panel: “We’ve seen a lot of really terrific spaces with terrific auditoria but the thing that stood out for me on the Seabury scheme was the lightness of touch and the freshness of this space although it could do a number of different functions - dance and drama. It has some technical flexibility to it that doesn’t impose on the space.

“It’s got a real sort of freshness that sits beautifully in the landscape and you can imagine it as being a space where you turn up and stay there the whole day and still feel fresh at the end of it. It's wonderful to be able to go from one art form to another without great kerfuffle. The freedom of creativity seems very open in this space and is reflected in the architecture being very open to the surround.

“It would also work tremendously well as a learning space as well as a performing space because  the whole atmosphere lends itself to preparing you for something very special which is of course the main architectural conundrum of a Performing Space; to bring people together, to set them up as a group, to prepare them, to forget their worries of the day, and to allow the artist to be equally prepared and ready and excited and full of energy, free thinking so I think the scheme represents that brief as well.”

The final word went to Chris Cotton: "A good tight brief….very well executed to create a very creative arts centre." 

A project singled out to achieve Highly Commended was Soundforms by Flanagan Lawrence. The panel agreed that it was clearly going for innovation in trying to get the concert hall experience for musician and audience alike in an outdoor context. David Staples noted: "If something like this appeared in your local park and you were a teenage boy or girl you might go to a concert, because it looks pretty slick and it has a bit of a 'wow factor' that would appeal to audiences."

We wish to offer our warmest congratulations to Flansburgh Architects, Flanagan Lawrence and to all who made the shortlist.

Jim Davis
WAN AWARDS Co-ordinator

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