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Orchestra Hall adding glass, glitz

Orchestra Hall’s $40 million makeover will include a prominent new front door and several other improved entryways to bring the hall much closer to the street. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

Orchestra Hall’s $40 million makeover will include a prominent new front door and several other improved entryways to bring the hall much closer to the street. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

By Mark Anderson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — “No more barriers to entry” could be the theme for the Minnesota Orchestra’s renovation plans for its 36-year-old home.

The $40 million face-lift will redesign and expand all of Orchestra Hall’s public spaces, adding lots of glass, a prominent new front door and several other improved entryways to bring the hall much closer to the street — and to potential new audience members.

The project gives the orchestra a chance to create a better experience for its patrons and to provide a key piece in an evolving city, according to Bruce Kuwabara and Marianne McKenna, principals in the Toronto firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg and lead designers on the project. “It’s a cultural project but also an urban project, and we asked ourselves: ‘How can we serve the city here?’” Kuwabara said.

Kuwabara and McKenna said they see the project as an opportunity to close the gap between the hall — a cultural icon for the nation, they said – and the city.

“They were struck by the fact that Orchestra Hall has a terrific location in downtown Minneapolis, but as it currently stands, it’s closed off from its surroundings,” said Gwen Pappas, the orchestra’s spokeswoman.

Glass will be a key to that new connection. The main floor lobby will be expanded toward 11th Street, and street-level windows will connect pedestrians and concertgoers at that first-floor level.  A bay window on the expanded upper levels will also give patrons a view of the city’s skyline and onto adjacent Peavey Plaza and Nicollet Mall.

The redesign will almost double the current public space in the building by the expansion of the lobby and by adding what the designers call a City Room, a largely glass cube that extends off the current lobby on 11th Street into Peavey Plaza. Glass walls in the City Room will be removable, to create an indoor-outdoor area for the hall in warm weather.

The expanded public spaces will give new opportunities for smaller, more informal performances, but the orchestra is also developing business plans for those spaces.

Orchestra chief executive Michael Henson said they will search for rental opportunities for those dramatic new spaces, as well as opportunities to expand the food and beverage services for catering and concert evening refreshments. He said he expects concert evening revenues for refreshments should at least double.

The redevelopment redresses an economizing step that the hall’s original developers took in the early 1970s when they decided to focus their investments on creating a high-quality performance hall at the expense of the hall’s public spaces.

“At the time, they thought that that lobby would last for 15 or 20 years, now we’re at 35-plus,” Pappas said.

The orchestra will finalize its construction schedule during the next four months, officials said. The hall will close for at least one season, with performances being scheduled at different halls in the region, officials said. The completed hall is expected to reopen in 2013.

Unlike most building projects these days, most of the money problems have been solved. The orchestra has raised $38 million of the $40 million needed, with $24 million coming from donors and $14 million from state bonds authorized during this year’s legislative session.

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