A new look for Orchestra Hall

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2010 - 12:19 PM

The Minnesota Orchestra revealed plans on Friday for a dramatic makeover of its downtown Minneapolis building.

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Architect's rendering: Orchestra Hall

Orchestra Hall's distinct, 1970s industrial-style exterior will undergo a dramatic makeover that will transform a signature block in downtown Minneapolis.

Architectural drawings unveiled Friday show a classic look of glass and stone in place of a facade marked by primary colors, steamship-style standpipes, opaque panels and, for the past few years, giant photographs.

The orchestra's $40 million plan, designed by Toronto architects Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB), would double the size of the lobby, add a multi-use room that could be used by outside groups, and create an unmistakable entrance facing Peavey Plaza and the Nicollet Mall.

"Our goal was to take a building that was an icon of its time, respect it and create something that would not be a fashion statement but a design for years to come," said Michael Henson, president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra.

KPMB's presentation Friday is the first step in a renovation scheduled to be completed by 2013. The proposal would expand Orchestra Hall's physical footprint in two ways -- bumping the lobby out toward 11th Street (space currently occupied by a driveway) and creating a new glass-walled "City Room" that would push farther into the adjacent Peavey Plaza.

"We are taking the greatness of this hall and projecting it out to the city," said architect Bruce Kuwabara. "This is a cultural project, but it's also an urban-development project."

Inside, another mission is reducing congestion. The current lobby accommodates only 850 people, far fewer than the 2,450 people in a full auditorium. As a remedy, the plan calls for a bigger street-level lobby on a flat floor that will replace the current, multi-leveled one. They envision bigger gathering spaces on the upper-level catwalks. New escalators would ease access from the parking-ramp skyway, and an outdoor balcony would be built overlooking Peavey. The overall intention, Henson said, is to create better crowd flow.

The concert hall itself, with its familiar tumbling-dice motif, would undergo only cosmetic changes.

The Orchestra Hall alterations prefigure a renovation for Peavey Plaza, 25 percent of which the orchestra owns. The city owns the rest. Mike Christenson, director of community planning and economic development, said the city is working on plans for a project of about $8 million. He anticipates the city will issue a request for proposals this year.

The orchestra expansion caps a period of extraordinary building among Twin Cities arts institutions. The 107-year-old orchestra -- Minnesota's largest arts organization -- will join the Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center, Children's Theatre, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minneapolis library and the Minnesota History Center in refitting or building anew in the 21st century.

Old design stressed utility

Orchestra Hall, designed by New York architect Hugh Hardy, opened in 1974 (and was updated in 1997). Its exterior stressed modern utility over Old World charm. The concert hall was lauded for its acoustics.

The lobby and exterior generated no strong passion among audiences. There was never a welcoming sense of entry, and the glass walls were oddly opaque. This project takes aim at both issues, with transparent glass and a definitive, canopied front door opening up to the city-owned plaza.

"That was a critical bit," Henson said. "It was very logical that the hall should join up to Nicollet and Peavey and the surrounding environment."

The other definitive aspect is the City Room, which would be lobby space on concert nights and could be rented for private events at other times. Thus, it presents income potential at a time when orchestras nationally are looking for ways to balance budgets.

When KPMB was introduced last June, Henson said $14 million had been raised toward the $40 million project. That figure rose quickly, to $24 million, by last December. After securing $14 million from the Legislature, the effort now has $38 million pledged. In addition, the state allocated $2 million for the Peavey project.

These new drawings could elicit enough new interest to push the total beyond $40 million, but Henson said add-ons would be less dramatic -- such as new seats in the hall or improvements back stage that the public would not see. No date has been set for groundbreaking.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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