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Simply Shakespearean

New theater uses ribbed metal panels in nod to London’s National Theater

Otto Budig1

The home of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the Otto M. Budig Theater in Cincinnati brings the audience up close and personal with the actors. With all seats less than 20 feet from the stage, audience members are closer to the performance than any venue in the region. The 250-seat facility provides a unique and intimate theater experience thanks to six rows of seating that wrap the flexible thrust stage. Aisles between sections allow actors to walk among the audience.

The move takes the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company from a cramped, former movie theater to a brand new building nestled in the heart of the city’s growing cultural arts corridor. Designed by GBBN, Cincinnati, the new Otto M. Budig Theater is located at the southwest corner of Elm and 12th Streets near the recently renovated Washington Park. Construction on the project began in Spring 2016, and the new theater opened in August 2017.

The creative use of ribbed metal panels prompted the 2018 Metal Architecture Design Awards judges to award the $17 million, 38,000-square-foot theater as the winner of the Ribbed Metal Wall category.

A Contemporary Design

The new theater has subtle yet creative nods to Shakespeare, including an exterior modeled after London’s National Theater with its roof peak reaching a crescendo at the front of the building. The uniquely intersecting metal roof and wall panels capture the creative spirit of the Shakespearean theater while providing a modern building in the midst of a historic neighborhood. Inside, the theater is modeled after Shakespeare’s own Globe Theater, with indoor lighting that emulates starlight that would have been seen during Elizabethan-era open-air performances.

To deliver a unique, intimate theater experience, GBBN worked with Chicago-based theatre planners Schuler Shook. The team paid particular attention to interior design elements, including having only six rows of seats, which allow the audience and actors to engage and energize each other. In a nod to each of Shakespeare’s plays, 38 steps ascend to the second-floor balcony and rehearsal/event space.

Selected materials also reflect the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s passion and personality. Reclaimed wood is reminiscent of the Globe Theater, mirror fragments embedded in the concrete floor, and fabrication marks were left on rolled steel as a visible reminder that each performance is something new.

GBBN designer Mary Jo Minerich notes that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company performs classical theater for contemporary audiences, and that’s why a contemporary design was appropriate. “As we considered the exterior of the building, we also wanted to be sensitive to the historical context of the neighborhood, harmonious with the surroundings, and design a structure that would be seen and felt as something different while meeting the budget constraints.”

The roof is made up of three intersecting triangular-shaped sections. The building’s unique design required review and approval by Cincinnati’s Historical Conservation Board. Steve Karoly, a GBBN project architect, explains, “The shape of the building and the roof slopes connects to a number of other structures in the historic area. And there are a number of other metal applications and influences in the neighborhood that relate as well.”

Design Award Judge Brian Court, AIA, partner, The Miller Hull Partnership LLP, Seattle, mentioned that he liked the project’s restraint. “It’s a really simple concept,” he said. “I think it’s understated, yet has a timeless simplicity to it. It is full of life and is hitting on its mission as a public arts and culture facility.”

Creative Corrugations

For the project, Petersen Aluminum Corp., Elk Grove Village, Ill., supplied 5,400 square feet of its 24-gauge, 7/8-inch Corrugated roof and wall panels in Champagne Metallic and Custom Metallic Bronze. The corrugated exterior wall cladding relies on perforated panels to add significant architectural interest and impact.

The design team felt the need to be creative in its use of the corrugated metal panels. Minerich says they were attracted to the undulation of the material and the lightness the perforation offered. “We needed to help people get past the perception that corrugated was industrial or agricultural,” she adds. “We created a wall mock-up that allowed people to experience the effect of the perforations in person. It was one of the most compelling factors in getting Board approval.”

“Given the type of appearance we wanted and our budget, metal was a given from early on in the design process,” notes Karoly. “We considered other materials, but didn’t think they would be optimal for this project.”

And, Minerich adds that once the corrugated metal was decided upon, a good amount of time was spent refining the perforations and detailing. “To elevate the level of quality, we designed with a high level of detail and made many trips to the site to ensure our design intent was realized.”

Dual Installers

The project’s general contractor Messer Construction, Cincinnati, recommended using the PAC-CLAD Corrugated Panels, and oversaw interaction with separate installers for the roof and walls. ProCLAD Inc., Noblesville, Ind., installed the perforated wall panels, while Tecta America Zero Co., Cincinnati, installed the roof panels. The corrugated panels were installed with matching edge metal.

Matt Gennett, senior project manager and vice president of Tecta America Zero, notes that the corrugated panels look really nice and are not complicated to install. “The hips and valleys and intersecting planes did create some interesting transitions, however,” he adds. “To the right of the alley was one color and to the left was another, so we had to match the color with our coping. We also had to pay attention to how the siding was being installed so we could match the metal to the siding and follow the transitions from color to color.”

Gennett says the perforated metal wall panels were installed first by ProClad, before Tecta America Zero came in to do the transition metal. “We had to make sure everything lined up perfectly,” he says. Tecta America Zero shop-fabricated all of the coping and flashing.

Warm and Inviting

To create an inviting effect and allow the community to see what’s going on in the theater, the perforated wall panels cover expansive windows. “Whether it’s classes or performances or the coming and going of the actors, the interaction has created a real presence for the theater in the neighborhood,” says Minerich.

And, Karoly says, “As day changes to night, the lights from inside really show well through the perforations.”

“One of the guiding principles of the design was to show all of the materials in their true form,” Minerich says. “We didn’t cover anything up. We wanted to enhance the existing elements—the steel, the concrete—to show their inherent beauty.”

“The design by GBBN captures a lot of attention with such a small building footprint using interesting angles and multiple colors,” says Mike Petersen, CEO of Petersen Aluminum. “The challenges of installing so much metal in such a tight space on busy city streets were expertly met by Tecta America Zero. We're proud of the work by the design and construction professionals at both of these businesses, and congratulate them on this well deserved recognition.”

Brian Isaac Phillips, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s producing artistic director, adds, “I think the final project is a wonderful combination of everything we wanted artistically and everything we wanted for our patron experience as well.”