For the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee designs additions of theatrical proportions
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 6/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
The North Carolina Symphony had long taken center stage at Raleigh's 1932 Memorial Auditorium. But the city's other performing-arts companies—including the ballet and opera—had no permanent home and were forced to occupy smaller local venues and university auditoriums each season. In 1999, after two years of planning and fund-raising, local architecture firm Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee broke ground on two additions to Memorial Auditorium, creating a massive complex to house Raleigh's 20-odd major performing-arts groups. Christened the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, the complex now includes Meymandi Concert Hall and Fletcher Opera Theater, both flanking the original building.
Designated the home of the North Carolina Symphony, the 1,720-seat Meymandi Concert Hall—the larger of the two additions—required, first and foremost, an acoustically sophisticated design. "The principle objective in designing a music hall is to keep the sound inside the space. It's also important to keep outside sounds from creeping in," says firm principal and design director Jeffrey Lee. The architects thus specified thick, hard materials for all surfaces: poured-in-place concrete and precast concrete panels for the walls, poured concrete for the steel-supported roof deck. "This treatment wasn't particularly handsome," says Lee. "We were left with determining how to make a beautiful space as well as an acoustically correct one." The solution was an aesthetically pleasing perforated-metal dropped ceiling that allows sound to penetrate to the concrete ceiling plane and bounce back to the audience. The rest of the hall is finished in perforated aluminum as well as cherry-wood panels and detailing. Seats upholstered in purple fabric wrap around the stage, which is floored with rock maple.
For the more intimate multiuse Fletcher Opera Theater, the architects had to keep everything from operas to plays—and their corresponding technologies—in mind. With high-tech theatrical lighting, glass-fronted balconies, a grid of painted-steel railings, and sound-refracting Vermont slate, the space suits large and small productions alike. Cherry paneling, on walls as well as the ceiling, visually links the 600-seat theater to the grander Meymandi Concert Hall.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, continues Lee, was "finding a common architectural language to tie together the classical vocabulary of the existing limestone structure with the more contemporary additions." The firm stretched a glass curtain wall on either side of Memorial Auditorium's classical portico and anchored the extended facade with limestone pavilions. This grand finale results in a glass box that glows at night and showcases the BTI Center's inner workings 24 hours a day. "There's a lot of movement and activity going on inside," says Lee, "which is what a performance space is all about."