The University of Pennsylvania announces Steven Holl Architects’ design for a new $75 million, 37,300-square-foot Student Performing Arts Center. The new building will provide a dedicated, flexible, and modern facility for the University’s student performing arts community, which includes dance, theater arts, a cappella groups, and musical ensembles.
The Student Performing Arts Center will house a 300-seat proscenium theater with full fly tower and orchestra pit, a 125-seat studio theater with flexible performance and rehearsal capabilities, five rehearsal studios, as well as performance support spaces and a loading dock. The building will target LEED silver certification and serve as an exemplar of sustainable performing arts design.
The design is characterized by three suspended trapezoids floating above the ground, echoing the dynamic movements of dancers and performers. An interplay of transparent and translucent glass allows for selective views to permeate from the inside out and produces a glowing presence at night. The Center’s red terracotta facade forms a material connection in harmony with several buildings across campus.
“The design team led by Steven Holl has carefully composed a vibrant massing of trapezoidal forms lifted above a transparent glazed base that reflect a complementary appreciation of the iconic Frank Furness designed Fisher Fine Arts Library,” notes University Architect Mark Kocent.
“It is a great joy and honor to work on a performing arts center for the students of this historic university on such an important site,” Steven Holl remarks.
Sited along Woodland Walk and Jenny Holzer’s 125 Years text-based sculpture celebrating the history of women at Penn, the new Center will activate the northeast corner of Penn’s campus, enhancing an inviting gateway while maximizing visibility and accessibility of creative life on campus. The dedicated and flexible student performance and rehearsal venues will support a robust diverse and expanding arts community at the University.
The proposal for the Center grew out of recommendations identified through a study completed in 2019 by Penn’s University Life, which concluded that additional performance and rehearsal space was needed to meet current and future demand. With more than 70 student performing arts groups, the new Center will serve as a dynamic and flexible space for student groups for dance, theater, singing, comedy, and other artforms.
The Student Performing Arts Center is expected to begin construction in fall of 2024 with anticipated occupancy in winter 2027.
The new Center continues Steven Holl Architects’ portfolio of performing arts and cultural venues that serve as community gateways. The REACH Expansion at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2019) has become a destination in Washington, D.C. due to its flexible performance spaces and open sculpted landscapes. Lewis Arts Complex at Princeton University (2017) features overlook views into dance and theater rehearsal spaces, and the open forum maximizes porosity, connecting the local community to the University. The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (2018), honored with the “placemaking award” by Historic Richmond, brings together audiences of diverse backgrounds. The Ostrava Concert Hall expansion in the Czech Republic, scheduled to break ground in 2023, adds a 1,300-seat concert hall to the original center and will be a new cultural landmark for the city.