Dramatic Terrain

Dramatic Terrain

Courtesy Matiz Architecture

Nestled seven miles outside of town, the Santa Fe Opera’s Crosby Theatre blends seamlessly within New Mexico’s unique landscape. Designed by James Stewart Polshek and completed in 1998, it features a suspended roof that is calibrated so that the setting sun coincides with the rising curtain. Tasteful stucco buildings are sized and placed in accordance with the rolling desert terrain. But the building’s small bathrooms, cramped wing space, and limited front and back of house amenities have motivated the opera to take on a sizable upgrade. Now, New York City–based Matiz Architecture and Design (MAD) is helping to launch the performing arts institution to new dramatic heights in a marriage of architecture, landscape, and the opera.

Principal architect Juan Matiz explained that “since the theater is already a strong architectural element” one of MAD’s main directives is to ensure sure that all improvements and new buildings complement and do not overwhelm existing features. The Crosby Theatre itself will be largely untouched, with the exception of the addition of 14 feet of sorely needed wing space on each side of the stage.


The expansion is being completed in two phases. The south side is first, with major upgrades to public and patron amenities. Plaza space is being expanded to improve traffic, the gift shop is being doubled in size, and 37 new toilets are being added to shorten the long restroom lines. But key original aspects of the architecture, like strategically angled trellises, retain the entrance area’s feeling of warmth and intimacy. “All these elements come together to form an oasis in the night,” said Matiz.

The project’s second phase focuses on the north side. The patron lounge gains a third floor, as well as a bridge that connects to the auditorium’s mezzanine and overlooks the Tesuque Valley. Behind-the-scenes buildings, including the costume shop, wig shop, and dressing rooms, are being expanded by roughly 10,000 square feet. Since skyline visibility is a crucial factor in the theater’s design, construction behind the stage will fit within predetermined heights and widths.

Site and vicinity.

MAD’s new buildings strive to deepen the interaction between the opera house and its environment. “Many aspects of the project frame nature,” said Matiz. Balconies open up to the night sky, and the buildings’ sizes and spacing reflect the dramatic changes in the surrounding terrain.

The architects are incorporating sustainable measures in the design to maintain the opera’s current operating budget on a larger footprint. LED lights adorn the dressing room mirrors, and the new plumbing uses the same amount of water as before. MAD is consulting with Kirkegaard Associates for acoustic considerations. A new fundraising wall in the entrance will memorialize the $35 million necessary for project completion.

The construction is scheduled to work around the opera’s season of July and August, placing the first phase of the project’s completion in April 2015. Phase two will begin after August of the same year and finish by April 2016.

“Working on an opera house is pretty special,” said Matiz. “Especially after working in New York City, where we get to create buildings that function as sculptural landscape elements, these huge [yet] minimal innovations give the impression that the buildings are part of the desert landscape, that they’re slowly coming out of the ground.”