The Dallas theatre designed by the OMA, with Joshua Prince Ramus as the project architect, was one of the topics for our weekly discussions. The video on the evolution of the design was an inspiring one with Ramus taking one through the process in a very methodological manner. His breaking up of the architectural design process into 3 core elements of Issues, Positions & Architectural Manifestations was indeed interesting and gave perspective to the Dallas Theatre design. Tony further added to this by stating that design process depended a lot on selection & rejection.
In the project, the theatre space is designed as a multifunctional space capable of a variety of seating & stage layouts to suit the different performances. This was a unique way of approaching a theatre design since it allowed for a lot of flexibility & innovativeness in the plays & other programs conducted there. This was reflected even in the stage & audience seating configurations, with movable seating allowing for a normal proscenium and also a thrust configuration wherein the stage was thrust into the seating space to create more of a connect with the audience and also for occasions when the stage was absent and even the entire floor could be converted into a single flat floor configuration for conventions, get-togethers and other such activities.
This was achieved by the architects by taking a joint position with the clients to go from ‘Two-thirds Architecture & one-third infrastructure to one-thirds Architecture & two-third infrastructure’ in the budget. As Ramus stated, this was indeed a remarkable departure, especially for the clients who were bold enough to go ahead with such an unconventional approach. Thus, the architectural manifestation was to take the ‘front of house’ & ‘back of house’ operations around the performance space & to redefine them as ‘top of house’ & ‘below house’. Thus, the entire performance space was freed up allowing for a lot of flexibility, even to the extent of having the entire perimeter of the building open, so as to bring in the city as a real background to the performances, if the creative director so required. This was achieved by the use of a ‘Scoreboard lift’ wherein the balconies & the proscenium can be lifted up to free up the ground space. Also, seating rakes which are movable were used to create various flat as well as raked seating configurations. Thus, along with the ‘multi-form’ configurations possible, even ‘multi-procession’ access was created, wherein the creative director had the freedom to decide on the circulation patterns in the building to create an experiential entrance into the space for the audience.
The end product was a space which was extremely efficient and functional and also one which was highly flexible allowing a lot of creative freedom for the performances. There was all round agreement that this was indeed a very unique design that evolved, with a general consensus that it was more of a machine than an architectural space. Tony emphasised that it was unbelievable the amount of importance that was given to performance arts & their facilities in the US, whereas here in India, such facilities were very few. It is a situation that needs to be remedied as there are a huge variety & diversity of performing arts here also which are unique & qualitatively comparable. A few people raised the point whether such extravagant & costly solutions were indeed required.
Another point raised was the process of design itself which was followed for this project. The simple clarity in the process and the methodological approach & research were indeed inspiring. The discussion ended on a positive note with all of us convinced that we need to really broaden our horizons & to come up with innovative solutions that are workable on the ground.