Sunday July 31, 2005

Performing Arts Center Preview

Last week we begged and pleaded our way into a tour of the Miami Performing Arts Center construction site. Here is a photo of the approach. Dead center is what was left of the Sears building, which MPAC will preserve (as a refreshment stand). To the left is the theater/opera house, to the right the concert hall. Immediately behind the Sears tower (to the immediate right in the photo) is what will be a black-box theater.

Now let us digress just for a moment. The Sears fragment is a great thing to have (not for nothing is a photo of it featured on the CM logo). But an architect insider pointed out to us that there were two finalist designs for the buildings, one by Cesar Pelli, the other by Rem Koolhaas. Now, Pelli is a fine architect with an impeccable reputation. But look at their respective Wikipedia entries, and tell us Koolhaas doesn’t look more impressive. Clearly Koolahaas would have given us the unique, world-class landmark building that the Center’s marketing tries to tell us we got. So why did they pick Pelli’s design? We are given to understand it’s because Pelli’s design preserves the Sears fragment. Now, the juxtaposition of old and new is a great thing, but this is a compromise that cost Miami a truly exiting building by possibly the most innovative architect of our time. (Also, arguments between Pelli’s office and the Center’s general contractor are blamed, in part, for the Center’s $167 million (at last count) cost overruns.) But enough dumping on the guy and on to the buildings, which are not unspectacular.

Here we see the main stage of the opera house. To the left is the back of the main curtain, directly behind the hardhat guy is the actual main stage, which will move up and down, to the right is backstage, and overhead is the rigging area. The photo is taken from stage left (there is no stage right). The enormity of this area is difficult to convey; the stage itself is the size of an airplane hangar; stageleft and backstage are equal in size and shape, so that three complete sets can be shuffled during one evening.

The same curtain is seen, from the other side, on the right in this photo. Clearly the audience area has a ways to go.

Crossing the bridge over US-1 to get to the concert hall. Pedestrian bridges between two buildings are always cool, but unless they’re expecting lots of people to catch two major performances in one evening, this one is mainly intended for the staff.

The concert hall is in about the same state as the first building. The scaffolding in these areas makes it difficult to get a sense of scale, but seating capacity is roughly equal in each. The concert hall does not have the complicated backstage spaces of the opera/theater house, but has large empty spaces behind the auidence with massive “sound doors.” When opened, the sound in the room reverbates (think of the sound in a cathedral); when closed, the sound is deadened (like a room with thick curtains and carpet). This way, the acoustics of the room can be tuned to the needs of each performance.

This is an artist’s rendering of the concert hall. None was around for the opera house, but we picture it looking much more like a traditional theater.

An interesting diagram of the opera/theater house. We’ve added the color coding: yellow is stage, backstage, and stage left, green is audience area, red is the Sears fragment, and blue is US-1. The football shape is a large plaza which overlaps the street.

You can see the plaza in this model. God help us, the street can be closed for events on the plaza. The black-box theater is the gray block at the back (Critical Miami predicts 90% of the interesting stuff at MPAC will be held there).

In addition to the bit about preserving a piece of history, the architectural justification of the design is the subversion of the front/back/sides paradigm of most buildings. That’s why one building has a glass facade on the south end, one on the north end, and other glass elements are scattered everywhere else. The building is situated so that it would not make sense to have it definitively facing in any one direction. To us, it sounds like “we didn’t want to catch shit for having the back pointed towards Overtown,” but a walk around the site reveals that it sort of turned out that way anyhow. Whatever: in another couple of years the area to the west of the Center will be razed and rebuilt with condo highrises. The Miami Herald building might be torn down. And FDOT has some wacky (and expensive) ideas for the area just to the Center’s south. And so continues the grand transformation of our city.

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  1. Merkin    Mon Aug 1, 09:57 AM #  

    Great story. And photos.

    The Sears fragment, as you appropriately name it, is even less impressive a structure than Freedom Tower, and lacks even the historical status. It chaps my ass knowing that its preservation had any part of this astonishing construction project…..and it’s slated to become a refreshment stand? This is goofier than the Miami Jerk Circle, and 100 times as expensive.

  2. cohen    Mon Aug 1, 06:11 PM #  

    miami is all grown up now. i hope we can affored to live there one day

  3. j-MAN    Mon Aug 1, 07:47 PM #  

    ...Alesh goes Gursky…!

  4. alesh    Mon Aug 1, 10:01 PM #  

    and all this with a friend’s borrowed powershot . . . had I had my wide-angle digital you would have really seen something.

  5. onajide    Thu Aug 4, 08:02 PM #  

    Damn, I really wanted to do this tour but, alas, I was in the Minnesota woods on Thursday. sigh I did visit the new Walker! They did a great job and, for only US$70 mil. With what they’ve done, Miami could sure learn some lessons!

  6. narciso79    Tue Aug 9, 09:06 PM #  

    It looks like the extended section of
    the crashed alien vessel
    in Alien