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Project Synopsis

The story of Boston University’s recently completed Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre and College of Fine Arts Production Center is threefold:

  • The new facilities enable BU College of Fine Arts School of Theatre to become a more unified and comprehensive program, with state-of-the-art facilities as teaching tools for all aspects of theatre production and performance. It is the first time in decades that College of Fine Arts performance and production students have been housed in the same location.
  • The building is a tour de force of design, continuing to elevate BU’s presence on Commonwealth Avenue.
  • With a full season of productions, Booth Theatre will quickly take its place among the many dynamic performance venues of the Boston area, providing students and Boston’s theatre-going public with additional cultural opportunities.
  • The 75,000-square-foot state-of-the-art theater complex, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, has a 250-seat theater, production and costume shops, design labs, classrooms, faculty offices, and a landscaped plaza.
01_BoothTheatre_FacadeDusk_©RobertBenson

A dramatic presence on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston University’s Booth Theatre provides a 21st-century learning environment for collaboration and experimentation with its multifunctional studio theatre and production center. Hosting the newly collocated theatre arts program, the new center is enveloped in a first-of-its-kind pre-cast concrete scrim that evokes the frame of a proscenium theatre, while the lobby’s mirror-like 47-foot glass curtainwall cants forward 14 degrees, reflecting the city scene. ©RobertBenson

Project Background

When Boston University sold its former theatre on Huntington Avenue in 2016, the sale brought with it three welcome opportunities for the University:

  • The chance to unify the theatre arts program, which had long been split between facilities on Huntington Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue. 
  • The capacity to bring a newly strengthened artistic presence to BU’s Charles River Campus.
  • The ability to create a state-the-art learning environment to educate the next generation of theatre artists and engage audiences in an immersive experience.

Unifying the design and performance tracks of the program had long been a goal of the School of Theatre and a means to accomplish it had been studied over the years.  Beginning in 2015, the theatre consulting firm of Auerbach Pollock Friedlander worked with Boston University and the School of Theatre to review various opportunities on the campus and develop the space requirements for the new theatre and production center for which BU ultimately selected Elkus Manfredi Architects to design.

Built on an underused lot at 820 Commonwealth Avenue adjacent to the College of Fine Arts (CFA) facilities at 808 Commonwealth Avenue and across from the CFA’s second separate facilities at 855 Commonwealth Avenue, the new theatre faces Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline just over the Boston city line.

06_BoothTheatre_Lobby_DoorsOpen_©RobertBenson

Like the façade, the lobby’s 37-foot acoustical ceiling also acts as a mirror, with a covering of reflective chrome-coated aluminum. In counterpoint, the granite floor grounds the light-filled space, while featuring embedded lighting strips in the same 14-degree angle as the façade. ©RobertBenson

10_BoothTheatre_DummerSt_©RobertBenson

In response to the residential neighborhood it faces, the Production Center’s southern side features green and silver dichroic metal panels, ipê wood siding and louvers, and windows of several scales. The quality and nuance of this chameleonic façade softens the wing’s volume and provides neighbors with visual interest and connection to the action within. ©RobertBenson

Program Summary

The Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre and College of Fine Arts Production Center encompasses:

  • A purposeful, multi-functional studio theatre used for student theatrical productions
  • Production facilities including scenery, prop, and costume shops serve as hands-on learning environments for students in the design & production program of the College’s School of Theatre
  • Faculty offices, teaching spaces including a sound and lighting lab and student design studios.
  • A landscaped plaza fronting on Commonwealth Avenue
  • Fully landscaped buffer areas fronting on Essex and Dummer Streets.
14_BoothTheatre_Stage_©EricLaignel

An experimental laboratory for student productions, the multi-functional studio theatre features a 42-foot x 36-foot theatre trap, a sound and lighting room, a motorized catwalk, nine motorized trusses for lighting and scenery, and custom-designed acoustical walls that host rigging and scenery while protecting the acoustical woodwork’s finish. ©Eric Laignel

17_BoothTheatre_MainPaintShop_©EricLaignel

The Production Center’s three bays get progressively taller to accommodate set production—from 24 to 34 to 36 feet. Once assembled, a set can go across the corridor into the theatre through doors that are 18 feet tall. ©Eric Laignel

18_BoothTheatre_StudioSpace_©EricLaignel

The theatre’s facilities include scenery, prop, and costume shops that are hands-on learning environments for students in the design and production program of BU’s School of Theatre. ©Eric Laignel

Overall Design Concept

A well-known quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature” has been a longtime touchstone for the BU theatre program and became a central point of inspiration for the design idea of theatre as a mirror to society. Wrapped in a proscenium-like concrete scrim, the theatre’s shimmering 40-foot glass façade on Commonwealth Avenue tilts toward the street at a 14-degree angle, reaching out and inviting visitors in, while reflecting them back as well.  The inspirational quote is now engraved on black metal panels along the edge of the mezzanine above the entry lobby, greeting all students, faculty, and visitors and reminding them of the world of imagination they are entering.  

07_BoothTheatre_Lobby_ToTheatre_HamletQuote

Now engraved in the black metal panels cladding the mezzanine’s façade, the School of Theatre’s touchstone quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To hold as ‘twere a mirror up to nature,” was inspirational for the architects. With the studio theatre’s 20-foot-wide doors open to the lobby, the Production Center is visible beyond. ©Robert Benson

Design Team 

Architect:Elkus Manfredi Architects
Project Manager:Stantec
Structural Engineer:(FKA) Amman & Whitney / Louis Berger
Theatre Programming, Design, AV:Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Civil Engineer:      Nitsch Engineering
Geotechnical Engineer:Haley & Aldrich, Inc
Architectural Lighting:Auerbach Glasow
Landscape Architect:Mikyoung Kim Design
MEP/FP:Vanderweil Engineers
Acoustics:Acentech
Code:Jensen & Hughes
Construction:Bond Brothers