Story at a glance:
- Marvel Architects prioritized durability, flexibility, and building performance systems in the TheatreSquared design.
- The acoustic design in the theater project includes a completely silent HVAC system.
- Cleverly repurposed building materials can be seen throughout the project’s spaces, including formwork used as interior cladding.
In late 2020 some of the most impressive sustainable theater design of late made its debut with TheatreSquared, or T2.
Designed by Marvel Architects, the new performance facility and accompanying artist apartments opened as Northwest Arkansas’ only year-round professional theater in November 2020. The 50,000-square-foot venue in Fayetteville uses sustainable materials throughout its modern design.
TheatreSquared gives the company its first dedicated rehearsal space as well as offices, education and community space, eight dedicated guest artist apartments, outdoor terraces at three levels, and an all-day café/bar on an active corner between Fayetteville’s downtown square and the University of Arkansas campus.
“The site, one block from a regularly used freight rail line, posed a unique challenge,” says Ariel Poliner, associate at Marvel Architects. “A straightforward response was developed to create two structurally and acoustically independent boxes around the two main performance venues.”
While the nearby train was a huge distraction at the former facility, the new theater was designed to be perfectly silent, from 24-inch walls to gaps between the steel and concrete to keep vibrations from passing through. Charcoalblue provided theater, acoustics, and AV consultancy. Even the HVAC was designed to be completely silent. The stage and seating in the West theater were acoustically designed so a person speaking at a normal volume onstage can be heard perfectly from any seat in the theater, even the balcony.
Poliner says those two structurally and acoustically independent boxes, constructed of board formed concrete, serve three purposes—as acoustic envelopes, structural walls, and interior and exterior finishes.
“Using full structural separations to achieve the sound separation strategy allowed an efficiency of material and process, reducing the material quantities and specialist detailing while speeding up construction,” he says.
Using Natural Materials
The design team used a limited material palette for this project, prioritizing features like durability, flexibility, and the building’s technical and performance systems.
“Concrete, sourced from in-state, provides a low-maintenance and durable finish intended to last for generations,” Poliner says. “The texture of form-lined concrete was used as the acoustic finish, with the surface roughness providing scattering of sound, thus avoiding the use of additional applied materials.”
On the building’s exterior, the charring of the wood creates a natural protective coating and has an expected 50-year or longer lifetime.
Structural and MEP systems were left exposed to show off the building’s inner workings and reduce finish and material quantities, further resulting in an overall reduction in construction waste and construction expense. Even more waste was avoided by repurposing formwork as interior cladding.
“An emphasis was placed on using materials in their raw state,” Poliner says. “Almost no paint was used on the exterior, which reduces future maintenance costs but also permits the building, through its materials, to weather and evolve with time. Partnerships with local artisans and craftspeople—using scavenged materials, and in-state sourcing for concrete, steel, and wood—reduced the carbon footprint of the construction process while sustaining the local economy.”
The relationship between wood and concrete visibly reinforces the theater company’s commitment to creating local and sustainable art. Arkansas pine boards that formed the concrete envelopes of the theater were cleaned, stained, and repurposed as interior finish in the studio and rehearsal spaces. Maple, hickory, and hackberry trees were salvaged from the site and, in collaboration with local architecture office Modus Studio, turned into custom furniture throughout the Commons.
Behind the building, the outdoor patio serving TheatreSquared’s new dedicated guest artists’ apartments is constructed from reclaimed brick from a 150-year old structure that once stood near the old Fayetteville Depot.
During design and construction, enhanced commissioning ensured a tight building envelope, reducing waste and improving operating efficiency, Poliner says.
“A massive underfloor air supply system in the West Theatre and Commons helps offset a historic design inefficiency in theaters—where overworked ducts typically push forced air past a barrier of heat generated by lighting instruments at the top of the space—while also keeping airflow below a whisper to support high acoustic standards.”
Thick concrete theater walls efficiently maintain temperature within the spaces—“so much so that, on one occasion, half of a hot August day had passed before staff realized the building’s mechanical systems were temporarily offline.”
Considering theater buildings’ occupancy varies greatly depending on the time of day and even year, Poliner says the mechanical systems were designed to provide energy savings during periods of reduced occupancy.
Local air handling systems are zoned according to expected occupancy, allowing certain zones to be ramped up or shut down as occupancy requires. Furthermore, the local servicing of spaces has reduced the material and building volume that would have otherwise been required to move large quantities of air around the building.
TheatreSquared also features a striking Kebony Shou Sugi Ban and Arkansas pine facade. Kebony is a high-quality, sustainable wood that doesn’t require any maintenance besides basic cleaning, according to the team at Marvel.
The Kebony Technology® is a patented and environmentally friendly wood treatment process originally developed in Norway. This process uses a bio-based fluid to improve the qualities and characteristics of the wood. The cell structure is permanently altered, providing the wood with the abilities and deep tan resembling tropical hardwood.
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Completion: November 2020
Size: 50,000 square feet
Architect: Marvel Architects
Lead Consultant: Charcoalblue
Theater Design: Charcoalblue
Acoustic Design: Charcoalblue
Audiovisual Design: Charcoalblue
Structural Engineer: Silman
MEP Engineer: Buro Happold Consulting Engineers
Site/Civil Engineer: McClelland Consulting Engineers
Lighting Designer: Jim Conti Lighting Design
Construction Manager: Baldwin & Shell Construction Company
Cost Estimation: Dharam Consulting
Code Consultant: Code Consultants Professional Engineers