One of the prevailing trends in the design of cultural buildings is to provide a look at how the sausage is made: showing off the work that goes on at the back of the house. This idea is particularly potent when it comes to arts education. Michael Maltzan’s just-unveiled Mashouf Performing Arts Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU), which features not one but five performance spaces knitted together with transparent classrooms, is a good example. It’s a dream project where theories about fostering creativity, interdisciplinary collaboration, and public engagement all come to the fore.
SFSU offers the largest program for arts training in Northern California; its better-known alumni include Annette Bening and Danny Glover, as well several producers and directors. The school’s programs in drama, dance, music, and broadcast journalism have been grouped together in a 1956 building that suffers from poor flow and lack of universal access.
“We knew we needed to build a new classroom space, but we also wanted a calling card to solicit partnerships with public arts institutions,” said Kurt Daw, Dean of the College of Creative Arts. “It needed to be an iconic building, and we had a real mandate to look for someone very forward-thinking about the arts and nonprofits in general.”
Maltzan prevailed in an RFQ process that narrowed down the competition to a shortlist of six, including Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who are designing the nearby Berkeley Art Museum as well as Eli Broad’s new museum in Downtown LA.
The $250 million performance and education center, which will comprise a total of 242,000 square feet, has no obvious precedent at a public university. The first phase of construction will include a 1,200-seat opera-style theater and an undulating circulation level running the length of the complex. Four smaller theaters, to accommodate all sorts of performances, will follow in two more phases.
“The building is almost like a city. It is meant to act like a small campus with those spaces and connective elements,” said Maltzan. “There’s one continuous horizontal layer, which connects across the entire project and many different disciplines. With informal as well as formal spots, in the choreography of that mix, you create the culture of the college.”
The triangular site will inform the complex layout of the building, which will emphasize slanted lines, from the sloping balconies in the main performance hall to the zigzagging framework over the ramps. Triangular shapes will be repeated in large outdoor courtyards interspersed among the major performance. At the corner of the site pointing to the center of campus, the horizontal circulation band, raised elsewhere, will dip down to earth to provide an easy path for artistically inclined students. The precise façade material had not been determined at press time.
The entire building will be wired to capture performances and rehearsals, and broadcast studios will let students do live editing of performances. The team of subcontractors includes Nagata Acoustics and Sonitus, who both worked on Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony Hall.
The arts center will not be visible from the main approach to the university on 19th Street; it will give SFSU a new visual identity on its west side along Lake Merced Boulevard. The LEED-Gold project will be funded by a $200 million state bond measure, which has yet to be submitted to voters, along with $50 million from private donors. The school has raised $12 million of the $18.5 million needed to kick off the first phase. It hopes to break ground by 2013 and finish all phases of construction in nine years.