Guthrie Theater
In Minneapolis, the Mississippi riverscape is defined by the falls, locks and bridges, and their background of great mills and silos: the very ones that made an impression on Walter Gropius, and later on Le Corbusier, Bruno Taut, Moisei Ginzburg and Erich Mendelsohn, all of whom labelled them icons of modernity. Situated next to the old Washburn-Crosby A Mill, in the heart of what was once the greatest flour-milling complex, the new Guthrie Theater Center pays homage to its industrial neighbors while capturing the magic of the theater.

The exterior is a composition of metal and glass that evokes industrial forms, rendered in a modern way. The large circular form of the thrust theater echoes the area’s adjacent grain silos, while the towering rectangular structure of the proscenium theater is in harmony with nearby flour mills. At dusk, the exterior walls flicker with the ghosts of great dramatic moments played out on the Guthrie stage. Barely discernible, these urban memories inhabit the facade. They stir in the dark shadows of twilight, when evening descends and the theater comes to life.

The upward-thrusting tube of the sign, with its LED messages flickering across the night sky, evokes factory chimneys – and also lends height enough to match the building’s lateral elongation. From this beacon show and performance titles are beamed out across the skyline. A spectacular 53-meter cantilever swings out over the river front, a contemporary rendering of the equally spectacular silos around it.

The design is sliced through by a multi-story blade. This blade is the backbone of the building, its vertical spine.
The Main lobby on the fourth floor, the center of circulation, is reached directly from street level by two very long escalators; discreet reminders of the flour mill conveyor belt. Semicircles cut in the ceiling open the space to the fifth-floor lobby with seating for pre-show dining. The lobbies serve both the Wurtele Thrust Stage and the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Elevators take theater goers to the cantilevered orange glass box, that serves as a lobby for the Dowling Studio theater on the 9th Floor.

Just as the outer walls display scenes from the life of the Guthrie, ghostly shapes from other moments play upon the walls and ceiling of the lobby and bridge. They are another mirage evoking the magic of theater, the contours of illusion.

The cantilevered “Endless Bridge” extends like a belvedere over the river, an open, mid-air promenade, a walk suspended in time and space. The window is in blue glass. Its color too lends an unreal aspect to the scenery. On reaching the balcony, the floor slips away, plunging to become an open-air theater with a view across the landscape.

The Guthrie has three auditoria, each occupying its own space but linked by a transverse walkway. The half-cylinder over the ground-floor restaurant accommodates the 1,100-seat Wurtele Thrust Stage, echoing the asymmetrical shell form that Ralph Rapson and Tyrone Guthrie devised for Shakespearean theater in the old Guthrie building. The audience envelops the stage on three sides, achieving a design well-suited to classic productions. It occupies levels 3, 4 and 5. The 700-seat McGuire Proscenium Stage, for contemporary performance, is set into the rectangular block on level 3 and 4. The 250-seat Dowling Studio theater, a black-box flexible space that can be adjusted to meet the specific needs of each show, is perched in a tower on the rectangular block.

The experimental studio and lobby extend into the “orange box,” a lamp jutting out against the night sky, with a bird’s eye view of the Mississippi River. The project also includes rehearsal rooms, classrooms, administrative offices, production and support facilities, restaurants, bars and parking. The new building, replacing the former facility at Vineland Place, is Jean Nouvel’s first completed North American project.


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