Written by: Andrea Shockling Monday, March 4th, 2013 .
The Western Texas landscape is made up of sparse, flat desert and endless skies. Recently, two mid-sized cities in this region, Odessa and Midland, and the local college campus, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, also in Odessa, joined forces to build a new performing arts facility. The resulting design by Boora Architects strives to capture the immense feel of the desert land and sky in an area of the United States where bigger is always better.
Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center was a project years in the making, funded both privately and with public funds. The performance venue has dual use for community and university events, and the design process challenged Boora and local associates Rhotenberry Wellen Architects to develop a functional multi-use performance space that also fit in with the grandiose landscape. But how do you take a concert hall to a scale appropriate for neverending earth and sky? In Boora’s case, they went back to those two elements, strata and sky, to design a dramatic and flexible performing arts space that seems to rise up from the horizon.
Some of the exterior walls of the Wagner Noël are covered in local rough hewn limestone wrapping around the public entry and multi-purpose lobby area. The rock has a heavy, monumental feel that, when coupled with the strong horizontal form, really establishes the building’s weight on the landscape.
One could argue that the strata influence is the easier part of the design, however. Bringing the huge Texas sky into the Wagner Noël was achieved in two different ways. A series of windows and skylights perforates the exterior limestone, bringing both natural light into the building and also connecting patrons back to the landscape outside. The exterior walls of the performing arts spaces themselves are covered in reflective stainless steel. The colors and the light from the sky play across this surface and actually serve to lighten the mass of the stone without detracting from its impact.
Bringing so much natural light into a performance venue can of course be problematic, so the window openings are contained in the lobby and the sky lights in the smaller recital hall only, not the main concert hall. The result is a casual venue that is flexible and intimate, appropriate for a facility shared with a university but that would likely feel out of place in a more formal presentational arena.
The smaller space incorporates the horizontals and lightness of the overall design of Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. For the mainstage, however, Boora opted for a more traditional performance space with modern features rather than bringing the elements of the building’s exterior further inside. It’s a beautiful 1,800-seat space, appropriate in scale for the community and university and able to accommodate a variety of performance types, but we can’t help but wonder how much more exciting the feel of the room could have been if more of the strata-sky motif was present. What might that look like? Limestone half walls partitioning the house, perhaps, or even bringing some of the sky blue into the room by way of seat upholstery rather than going with the traditional red.
From the outside, Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center is a unique feature on the immense West Texas landscape, embracing earth and sky in a dramatic way. If the interior was just a little more in tune with the scale of the exterior, we might just call this concert venue a masterpiece.
Image source: boora.com