Page D2.2 . 06 April 2005                     
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    Rock of Arts


    Simon's Rock, with only 350 students, is part of Bard College, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southwest in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Despite its size, Simon's Rock is a diverse community. The students hail from 35 states, and the college offers associates and bachelor of arts degrees.

    The 53,000-square-foot (5,000-square-meter) arts center is positioned as the gateway to the rural campus, nestled within the Berkshire Hills. The previous campus home for the arts program was a series of rambling barns. The setting inspired the new building's simple forms and shed-like bearing.

    During the summer months, this part of the country has for years attracted aspiring actors to perform in theater companies that thrive in old barns and the like — the architectural essence of the "summer stock" experience.

    Daniel Arts Center takes the regional agrarian buildings as a starting point and then pushes the form into the sculptural realm. A mere barn, no matter how beautifully detailed, would have still been farm-bound and maybe a bit kitschy. But the architects, led by design principal Robert Miklos and project manager Geoff Pingree, have achieved a design that is much richer and visually intriguing than an artful barn. It is a sculpture in the landscape, echoing the surrounding Berkshires.

    The arts center draws students and visitors to its main entry on the building's upper level, which acts as a funnel. A flat shed roof slides over the entrance, between the studio theater and the dance studio, creating a protective, welcoming canopy. At this point the building splays open, like a hinge, extending its two wings to the northeast and northwest, and framing views of the campus and the wooded landscape.

    Here we find another entrance, one level below the main entry, which leads out to a garden courtyard. The two-story lobby is glassy and bright, wrapped in a visually permeable membrane that unites the theater wing to the two-story visual arts wing. Across a generous "art court" behind the theater is a detached single-story shed building that houses studios and workshops for sculptors, potters, and set designers.

    Material expression is thoughtful but not fussy. The exterior revels in vertical cedar cladding, which underlines the barn-like aesthetic. This opaque natural material contrasts with the translucent plastic vertical siding — a cellular polycarbonate material often used in greenhouses — that wraps the upper portions of the theater wing, selective spaces in the visual arts wing, and the fenestration of the detached shop.

    The material allows light in, but softens it, while at night it makes the building glow softly. The other predominant exterior material is gray-painted steel.

    The materials are repeated inside, along with simple fir decking and unfinished concrete floors. The touch here continues the loft aesthetic, and accomplishes what design principal Robert Miklos calls a combination of rural barns along with industrial loft space, "resulting in a place that is somewhere between New York and the Berkshires."

    While the spaces inside vary in size, they all have a laid-back, undemanding mien, even the 350-seat theater, which is generous yet intimate. No seat is farther than 40 feet (12 meters) from the stage. Here, the exterior material palette is repeated, with plywood that recalls the cedar siding acting as sound reflectors above the stage.

    With architecture so straightforward and refreshingly unassuming, those who use Daniel Arts Center will be reminded every day that one of the great secrets of succeeding as a student and as an artist is to just be yourself.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.



    ArchWeek Image

    Daniel Arts Center at Simon's Rock College, by Ann Beha Architects.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker

    ArchWeek Image

    Mainstage theater.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker

    ArchWeek Image

    Lower level plan.
    Image: Ann Beha Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Upper level plan.
    Image: Ann Beha Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Garden court for the visual arts wing.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker

    ArchWeek Image

    Garden court for the shop wing.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker

    ArchWeek Image

    Garden court back entrance to the Mainstage theater.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker

    ArchWeek Image

    Arts center lobby, lower level.
    Photo: Peter Vanderwarker


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