When the critically acclaimed Writers Theatre decided that they needed a new space, they set out to find a “home” in every sense of the word. They needed something permanent, comfortable, intimate, and capable of supporting the company’s ambitious staging. Additionally, they sought a shared communal space that would ensure that they would remain embedded within the broader day-to-day community of the theatre’s hometown of Glencoe, Illinois.
Together with the Village of Glencoe and the Woman’s Library Club (whose building the company inhabited), Writers Theatre hatched an exciting plan to turn the club’s structure into an engaging multi-use community hub, providing the town with a vital platform to support artistic creation and a catalyst for further development in the downtown area.
To create this new space, Writers Theatre engaged Studio Gang Architects, the renowned local firm with a strong and growing legacy of developing inspired buildings and public spaces throughout the Chicagoland area. Led by led by founder and design principal Jeanne Gang, the Studio Gang team collaborated with Writers Theater staff, artists, and patrons to design an artistically generative space focused on intimate communal interactions and developed with sustainable building practices.
The most immediate impression from the new Writers Theatre structure is one of openness and invitation. The structure follows a “theater in the park” concept and is organized around a 36,000-square-foot multi-use gathering space. Depending on the time and day, the Litowitz Atrium will be utilized as a lobby for performances, a public gathering space, in informal rehearsal stage, or the site of community readings and other events. Glass walls to the south and east let sunlight flood the area, while sliding doors allow natural flow into the adjacent park. High above the atrium is Studio Gang’s stunning Grand Gallery Walk, a wood-screen enclosed walkway that allows patrons to stroll around the atrium and gain access to the green roof garden. Further inspiration can be seen in Tudor-style design elements, which echo both the great theaters of English tradition, and Glencoe’s own architectural history.
Writers Theatre made its name by creating intimate experiences between performer and audience. The center’s two performance spaces, a 250-seat main stage, and a 99-seat black box venue are optimized to facilitate interpersonal connection. In the larger theater, a thrust stage and three distinct seating banks allow for actor circulation and dramatic staging. The smaller theater offers movable walls and variable seating that allows for a wide variety of stage sizes and layouts. Additionally, an expansive rehearsal space represents the first time the troupe’s players have been able to rehearse onsite in the company’s 24 seasons.
To make the structure accessible to all visitors, the entire space is ADA compliant with accessible ramps and elevators throughout. Additionally, the performance and rehearsal areas offer state-of-the-art hearing induction loops designed to assist visitors with a limited range of hearing.
Studio Gang’s focus on sustainable building practices can be seen throughout the center. An astonishing 98% of the previous Women’s Library Building was recycled during construction, crowned by the attractive re-use of exterior bricks to create an acoustic shell in the main theater. Local plants populate multiple green spaces that are supported by local and renewable building materials. Studio Gang and Writers Theatre are currently seeking LEED Gold Certification for the center. During evening performances, the Writers Theatre center will glow from within, sending a clear message to the community-at-large that they’ve found a warm, inviting space safe for artistic expression.
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