After hosting grand names ranging from Robert Frost to Mikhail Baryshnikov as well as thousands of Psychology 101 students, the University of Minnesota’s 85-year-old Northrop Auditorium will unveil its new look in April following an $88.2 million, three-year makeover.
The 2,700-seat, three-balcony main hall — down from the cavernous capacity of 4,800 — will reopen April 4-6 with the American Ballet Theatre performing “Giselle” with a live orchestra, the university announced Thursday.
“The university’s vision was to make this the crossroads of campus,” architect Tim Carl of HGA said Thursday at the beginning of a tour.
Or, as Provost Karen Hanson put it: “In daily life, it was a landmark that students walk by on their way to someplace else.”
Now the U is hoping to increase activity in Northrop by moving three academic departments into the building, and adding a cafe (run by Surdyk’s), classrooms and study areas open until 10:30 p.m. On the cultural side, the revamped Northrop will feature two new venues — a 168-seat state-of-the-art movie theater and a rehearsal space as big as Northrop’s main stage.
“The architecture is respectful of the historic fabric without being confused by it,” said Carl, referring to how HGA has preserved several features and artifacts.
The front lobby remains the same, but a new, bigger box office has been built and staircases added because accessibility was one of the driving principles, he said. The numbers of elevators, restrooms and concession stands have doubled.
The main attraction is the reconfigured main hall, with its three curved but steep balconies, diminished width, state-of-the-art acoustics, removable orchestra pit, new loading dock and deeper stage.
“Carnegie Hall was our equivalent benchmark,” said HGA’s Jim Moore. “Dance was the primary program that [new Northrop] is designed around, but it has full abilities for other things.”
Northrop used to be the go-to midsize Twin Cities concert venue, drawing a range of acts from the Grateful Dead to Death Cab for Cutie to Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan. But now its capacity is comparable to the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
“The vast improvement in our acoustics will make the concert experience much better,” Northrop director Chris Tschida said.
A variety of events are booked for the spring at Northrop, including a lecture by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a performance by Garrison Keillor’s radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and a concert with Osmo Vänskä conducting the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in a re-creation of the first Northrop concert by the Minneapolis Symphony, for which the venue was built.