Athey Center, Connecticut College, USA, Connecticut Architecture, Performance and Research, Palmer Auditorium
Connecticut College’s Athey Center in New London
May 3, 2022
Design: Ennead Architects
Location: New London, Connecticut, United States of America
Photos © Ennead Architects/Aislinn Weidele
Connecticut College’s Athey Center
Ennead Architects, the internationally renowned architecture firm, celebrates the opening of the Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium on the campus of Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. The newly transformed space will promote pioneering artistic production and research, attract world-renowned artists-in-residence, reinforce the campus Arts District, and offer renewed areas for community engagement. The project includes a new entrance, a complete façade renewal, and interior renovation to the auditorium, lobbies, lounge, costume and workshop, as well as teaching, administrative, and support spaces. Click here for photos.
Central to the project is a historically informed renovation of Palmer Auditorium, the iconic Art Deco theater designed in 1939 by William F. Lamb, one of the principal designers of the Empire State Building. Now home to Connecticut College’s Theater Department, when the auditorium was first built, it was conceived as a gift back to the community of New London. The space has a storied history and is well-known for hosting performances from acclaimed musicians, dancers, and performers such as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the American Dance Festival, Alvin Ailey, Dizzy Gillespie, Martha Graham, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. Ennead’s renovations respect the original character of the building, while modernizing the structure to better support teaching, learning, and performance across a spectrum of disciplines.
“We are proud to celebrate the opening of the Athey Center for Performance and Research,” said Molly McGowan, Partner at Ennead Architects. “Our design seamlessly blends old and new, bringing the beloved auditorium into the 21st century with inviting, light-filled spaces that emphasize accessibility and technological refurbishments to better support creative research and collaboration.”
Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron said, “The renovations have resulted in a magnificent transformation that promises to make the Athey Center a destination for the region and an inspiration for future generations of student performers ready to make a difference with their art.”
From the façade renewal, to the new entry canopy, to increased transparency in the Tempel Green and Castle Court lobbies, Ennead’s interventions are all aimed at enhancing the vibrancy of the building. The design emphasizes the historic nature of the auditorium by enhancing the Art Deco metalwork on the exterior of the building, restoring the stone, and replacing deteriorating spandrels with light boxes, as well as restoring the original lighting fixtures, which now hold a more prominent place in the lobbies.
The renovation reshapes the auditorium seating, providing access that is in line with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, as well as improved sightlines to heighten the sense of intimacy throughout the auditorium. The transformation also includes the reshaping of the auditorium ceiling for better acoustics, a new stage, audio and visual technology upgrades, and updated lighting positions—including the re-opening of the original clerestory windows to invigorate the space with natural light.
By making small adjustments to the building plans within the existing footprint, Ennead created a new lounge area and box office with an expanded public lobby. The lobby spaces on two levels were re-imagined to serve as informal teaching and study spaces. Two key elements were introduced at the main level lobby: a highly visible entry to the Theater Department’s administrative suite and a visual connection to the newly created teaching studio. Moreover, the new Theater Department suite is consolidated in the south wing adjacent to the auditorium, displacing the old teaching studio that was compromised by low ceiling height. It now provides a light-filled gathering place and a new public face in the building that welcomes students, staff, and visitors alike.
“Ennead is honored to be part of the revitalization and creative reuse of the historic Palmer Auditorium into the new Athey Center for Research and Performance, and we are inspired by Connecticut College’s mission of advancing the study, performance, and enjoyment of the arts for all,” said Brian Masuda, Associate Principal at Ennead Architects.
The Athey Center for Performance and Research is one of several current performing arts projects at Ennead, which is designing the International Performance Center in Shenzhen, Steelhouse Omaha, and the revitalized Delacorte Theater in New York City’s Central Park. Ennead is known as one of the nation’s preeminent designers of spaces for the performing arts at all scales, from concert halls like Carnegie Hall, New York City Center, and the Holland Performing Arts Center, to major theatrical venues like The Public Theater at Astor Place, to multi-purpose theaters for educational institutions like Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University.
About Ennead Architects
Renowned for its innovative cultural, educational, scientific, commercial, and civic building designs that authentically express the progressive missions of their institutions and enhance the vitality of the public realm, Ennead has been a leader in the design world for decades. The recipient of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution-Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, the AIANY Medal of Honor, and the National AIA Firm Award, as well as numerous design awards for individual buildings, Ennead has a body of work that is diverse in typology, scale and location. The firm’s collaborative process is based in extensive research involving the analysis of context, program, public image, emerging technologies, and a commitment to sustainable solutions. www.ennead.com
Architecture: Ennead Architects – Wesleyan University
Photography © Ennead Architects/Aislinn Weidele
Athey Center, Connecticut College New London images/information received 030522
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