Dancing About Architecture

Dancing About Architecture

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts announced three new initiatives poised to transform cultural life in Orange County: two programs—the Center for a Dance and Innovation and the Center Without Boundaries—and a new plaza designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA).

While the two centers plan to focus on creativity through movement and civic engagement, MMA’s design for the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza sets the stage for these activities by reinventing the existing Arts Plaza as a public gathering place with a public stage ready to host free events for up to 2,000 people.

More ambitious than a simple plaza, as the initiative’s title may suggest, MMA’s scheme is a comprehensive reworking of the outdoor spaces around Segerstrom Hall. The campus was originally master planned by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, who also designed the adjacent Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, with landscape by Peter Walker’s PWP Landscape Architecture. A street once passed through the campus, and while it has long been closed, it left behind a public space out of scale with the surrounding buildings.


“The street made the plaza difficult to occupy in a full range of different programmatic possibilities,” said Michael Maltzan. “Our work was to imagine and expand the range of activities to take place there, which included large public performances such as a 1,000 person movie night, but also still be comfortable for couples, families, and individuals.”

According to Maltzan, the design responds to the need for outdoor areas at a number of scales and includes intimate seating, as well as a large public space and multi-purpose community stage. Renderings of three shaded green spaces—the Plaza Entry Grove, the Amphitheater Grove, the Community Picnic Grove—show casual public seating areas and pedestrian paths tucked under the tree canopy.

The main architectural component of the scheme is a circulation sequence that connects the main parking lot (via a sweeping ramp) to a walkway that passes through Segerstrom Hall and connects patrons via a grand staircase to the plaza.

“It’s a gateway and entry into the plaza,” said Maltzan. “The walkway cuts through the whole facade and creates a loose threshold. Choreography is an important thing in my work. Here, because there are many ways you can enter and leave the hall, we tried not so much to create a geometrically formal plaza but to think about how different itineraries and movements could be choreographed.”

These circular set pieces are signature Maltzan—a combination of gestural form and circulation seen in microprojects like the John V. Tunney Bridge at the Hammer Museum or at the infrastructural scale, like the Sixth Street Bridge. Programs such as an outdoor cafe and an observation deck are also integrated into the stair form to compliment the strong geometries of the existing building.

This is not the first time a top firm has been asked to enhance the arts campus. It’s a tough suburban setting to perk up: the site is indecorously located across the street from South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. In 2008, Morphosis was selected to design the new Orange County Museum of Art to be located on a parcel across from the concert hall. That plan for a 72,000-square-foot building stalled out due to the economic downturn, but there are still hopes it will move forward.

Support for plaza project and programming comes from The Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ $68 million Next Act Campaign. This fundraising includes a $13.5 million gift from Julianne and George Argyros. Construction starts on the plaza early 2016, with completion slated for fall 2016.