A new School of Drama design studio is rising in Hutchinson Hall where the swimming pool and locker rooms used to be. Work on the project, which also includes a new roof for that area of the building, got under way in July.
In the distant past, Hutchinson Hall was the women’s physical education building and was outfitted with a gymnasium and a pool on its south end. The School of Drama turned the former gym into rehearsal and black-box theater spaces several years ago, but the pool continued in operation until the end of the 2008-2009 school year. It has since been drained and the chemicals decommissioned, but the space remained idle until now.
The design studio space will include faculty offices and classroom space for lighting and scenic design students. There will be a lighting lab where students can view costumes or makeup under stage lighting and learn the effects of different lighting on actors, a sound lab for creating sound effects, a print room with equipment that can accommodate large scale drawings and a computer lab.
The new space is just over 8,000 square feet, compared to about 2,000 square feet in the current space, which is on University Way near Northeast 40th Street.
“We’ve been in a room where the graduate students work, and it’s also been our classroom and sometimes where our undergraduate students work, and it’s not adequate to any one of those tasks,” said Geoff Korf, who heads the school’s design program. “The new place gives us a larger area for the grad students and very significantly adds a space that the undergrads can work in.”
Up until now, undergraduates — with no design space assigned to them — have not had access to drafting tables and have had to do their design assignments on makeshift surfaces such as their kitchen tables. They’ll be taking over the former locker room space in Hutchinson, where they’ll have the proper design tools, as well as a chance to mix it up with graduate students in the field.
The graduate students will benefit from the new space too. They will take over most of the area where the pool used to be, and in addition to student work stations with drafting tables, there will be space to hold critiques. A main feature of most design programs, Korf said, involves pinning up student design projects and having the class look at all of them as a group. But in their current space there is only room to hang one project at a time, which he says inhibits the students’ opportunities to learn from each other.
Students will also have larger and better lighting and sound labs in the new space. The grid in the lighting lab will be 14 feet as opposed to 9 feet and the room will accommodate 15 students comfortably rather than 8. The sound lab, which currently is in a converted closet, will be three times larger in the new space, containing three stations with recording/playback equipment, a computer and headphones.
Perhaps the main benefit of the move, however, is a less tangible one. It will help design students feel more a part of the School of Drama community. “That sense of community is vital for learning, particularly in a field such as this, which is all about collaboration,” said Drama Professor Tom Lynch, a scenic designer. “Design students are working so hard that they have tended to stay in their studio, which is blocks away from Hutchinson. It will be wonderful to have the faculty from the other areas in the drama school begin to know the design students right away and vice versa rather than waiting until they’re working together on a production.”
The current studio, which is in the same building as the Arts Ticket Office, is scheduled to be demolished for the new residence halls. (The Arts Ticket Office has already moved to a temporary space at 3901 University Way, where Parking Services used to be.)
But the project in Hutchinson is “minimal,” Drama School General Manager Anne Stewart said. “They’re doing as little new construction as possible. For example, the rooms currently have tile on the walls, so we’re just going to live with that. After the pool is filled in, the floor will be stained concrete. And there’s no new furniture being brought in.”
Korf and Lynch say that fundraising is under way to cover some of the items — such as those drafting tables for undergraduates — that aren’t part of the budget. Anyone interested in donating should contact School of Drama Director Sarah Nash Gates.
The project’s cost is just over $1 million, and a good portion of that will go to the roof, Stewart said. “It’s been patched, but still it’s leaked as long as I’ve been in the building.”
The pool will be filled using geofoam blocks like those used in highway construction. The blocks help to prevent settling, Stewart said. A 5-inch concrete slab will go on the top.
Although the new space will be used for design classes, the four new faculty offices in the space are not reserved for design faculty. “We like to mix it up and put people from different fields next to each other,” Stewart said. “But now all the drama school faculty will be under one roof, which is going to make life much better.”
Korf and Lynch say life will be particularly better for the design program and that the minimal nature of the project doesn’t bother them. “The space is way more critical to us than the decor of it,” Korf said.
Lynch added, “We should underline how committed the dean of arts and sciences’ office has been to this effort — in particular Bob Stacey, the divisional dean for arts and humanities. It’s remarkable support at a time when the University is in one of its all-time money crunches.”
The architect for the project is NAC Architecture, and Charter Construction is doing the work. Stewart said the drama school hopes the work will be completed in fall quarter and that they’ll be able to move into their new digs over the winter break.