Signature Center, 42nd Street Development, 10th Avenue Theater Building

Signature Center Manhattan : 42nd Street Building

Theater in New York, NY, USA – design by Frank Gehry, architect

Mar 23, 2010

Signature Center New York


Design: Frank Gehry architect

Signature Theatre Company (James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director; Erika Mallin, Executive Director) is pleased to unveil the models for the Signature Center, a new permanent home for the company, currently under construction as part of Related Companies’ mixed-use development on 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. Signature Center is designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry and will open in 2012.

Lobby cross section ; Theatre 1, The End Stage
Signature Center New York Signature Center

“Frank Gehry’s stunning designs for the new Signature Center are the perfect embodiment of the theatre’s mission and will enable the company to grow and expand our existing programs in exciting new directions,” Jim Houghton commented. “We’re honored to be working with Frank Gehry and his team and cannot imagine a more vibrant permanent home for our company. We hope the Signature Center will be a dynamic addition both to the theatre community and the city of New York.”

Frank Gehry said, “We are thrilled to be collaborating with Jim Houghton on an elegant yet modest new home for the Signature Theatre Company. Our intent was to fashion a space that captures the rough-and-ready and experimental spirit of the actors and playwrights that will inhabit it. The drive for me was to create an intimacy between the performer and the audience, and to create a space that encourages the innovation that Signature is known for. We have worked very hard to foster this in the three theatres, while allowing them each to have their own identity. This is a very special project created from very special circumstances and I think is in the right spirit for the company.”

The 74,000-square-foot space comprises three theatres, two rehearsal studios and a dynamic, shared lobby that features a café and bookstore, encouraging the intermingling of artists, audiences, and the community.

The Signature Center will feature three unique programs: The Master Playwrights Residency, which is the continuation of Signature’s core Playwright-in-Residence program that explores the works of playwrights with major bodies of work; the Legacy Program, which celebrates the lifetime achievements of the artists who have previously worked at Signature, with premiere and signature works; and the introduction of the Emerging Playwrights Residency, which will feature early and mid-career playwrights and guarantee them three full productions over the course of a four-year residency, offering an extended artistic home where they will build a body of work.

Theatre 2, The Courtyard ; Theatre 3, The Jewel Box
Signature Theatre Company New York Signature Center Design

Gehry Architects New York describes the Signature Center’s exterior and interior and the three new theatre spaces below:

The End Stage
“The End Stage” is the largest of the 3 theatres in the Center with 299 seats. It is the most similar to the Peter Norton Space, the company’s current home. A straight rake of seating rises from the stage edge and is contained within plywood walls that give the space a subtle architectural expression. The shaped panels of the walls will be painted to fade to black as they approach the stage, creating a transition from the architectural space of the room to the scenic space of the play. A large doorway will connect this theatre to the lobby. The closing of this door will indicate that the play is about to begin.

The Courtyard
“The Courtyard” is a 199-seat flexible theatre. The courtyard form, which has a long history in the development of theatre, will give this space distinction from the other two theatres. This theatre can be used in an endstage format, as a modified thrust stage, a runway center stage configuration, or in a flat floor format for experimental work. Each of these configurations has a second level gallery that seats patrons in a single line overlooking the stage. This small theatre will place patrons in a very intimate relationship with the actors.

The Jewel Box
“The Jewel Box” is the most intimate of the three theatres and has 199 seats. The intent of this space is to pull the patrons as close as possible to the stage, creating a compression that will allow for an intense and intimate theatre experience. This theatre has a single balcony and is reminiscent of a tiny opera house. This room has the most articulated architectural expression with shaped plywood panels framing the proscenium, wrapping around the balcony front and creating a ceiling under the lighting bridges above the house. These panels will be stained a deep chocolate brown that will disappear as the house is faded to black.

Each of the three theatres has a unique form and expression to give the Playwrights-in-Residence a choice of theatre that will best suit their work.

The Signature Center is entered from the sidewalk on 42nd Street under a glass canopy that will protect patrons from the elements and identify the Center with signage. This sculptural design element will give the Center a strong presence and sense of arrival. The street level lobby is compact and visually dominated by a plywood clad stairway that will lead to a gracious upper lobby and then to the three theatres. The box office is set within the form of the stairway at the street level. Large-scale graphics on the lobby walls will communicate Signature’s mission and history, as well as feature images and testimony of Signature’s current Playwrights-in-Residence and other participating artists.

The extensive 2nd floor lobby will be used for informal gatherings and includes a bar and informal café seating. The lobby also includes a small bookstore area where books by current and past Playwrights-in-Residence will be sold, and audience enrichment materials relating to current Playwrights-in-Residence and their Signature residencies will be made available. In addition to the theatres, the building on 42nd Street will house all back of house and support functions as well as an administrative wing housing Signature’s day-to-day operations.

The architecture of the Signature Center is simple and straightforward but also distinctive. Because this project is contained in the envelope of a building that is already designed and because space is limited, the floor planning and spatial expression is simple. The quality of the design is expressed in carefully proportioned spaces and in the refinement of the layout and detailing.

Signature is currently running the critically acclaimed production of The Orphans’ Home Cycle by Horton Foote, a nine hour, three-part theatrical event and the company’s most ambitious programming to date (22 actors, multiple set locations). Signature will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the 2010-11 Season by presenting works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner, including the first New York revival of Angels in America. Signature, its productions and its resident writers have been recognized with a Pulitzer Prize, eleven Lucille Lortel Awards, fifteen Obie Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and nineteen AUDELCO Awards, among many other distinctions. The National Theatre Conference recognized the company as the 2003 Outstanding National Theatre of the Year.

Signature Center New York images / information from Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry

Location: 42nd Street, New York City, USA

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