As part of the environmentally-friendly One Bryant Park office tower project, the architects at COOKFOX had the chance to do something a little more artsy: revamp a nearby Broadway theater. A new arrival at the firm, Pam Campbell, took on the project when it began in 2003 and oversaw it, virtually single-handedly, until the theater opened in 2008. COOKFOX Partner Rick Cook describes Campbell, now 35 and a senior associate at the firm, as a quiet but powerful voice.
The project was essentially a first for Campbell, who had worked on only one other arts center during her time as an architect in London, and it was also a first for Broadway as the performance mecca's first LEED-certified theater. The status is fitting: the building, at 124 West 43rd Street, has been leading change in theater ever since it opened as The Henry Miller's Theater in 1918. (It was renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in 2010.) Miller envisioned the space as home to a new type of theatrical experience, a more intimate one than could be found in larger-scale structures where the architecture helped to create a gulf between performers and audience. The research for the renovation, Campbell explained, involved looking back at what the original intentions for the building had been, consulting writings about Miller, examining the designs of other buildings, and even unearthing a 1918 Architectural Record article that specified the theater's initial paint colors. Campbell took us on a tour of some of the building's features for the video above.
The result is a building that balances inherently contemporary LEED elements with nods to history. Walls that look like metal or stone are actually made of recycled paper, 95 percent of the air that comes into the building is filtered, and the building was even the first in the city to legally include waterless urinals?the project, in fact, was the one that made the Department of Buildings accept them as legal. Ice storage tanks under the theater curb the peak load of the building by generating ice at night that can be used during the day. Many of these environmentally-friendly materials were only just coming onto the market at the time, and the project, Campbell says, helped push "boundaries in terms of what's available in the marketplace."
But "building buildings that people want to keep in existence is as much about sustainability as building a high rise with gadgets," Campbell argues, and there is plenty at the Sondheim Theatre that is focused on the people rather than the tech. Brick carries through the building as a way of helping visitors orient themselves, New Georgian detailing makes the place feel more like a house than a venue, and several sections of the theater are painted with a color that is the closest possible match to the "bright English green" specified in that 1918 Architectural Record description. One of those areas is the elevator, which is also meant to feel like a sort of "moving room" for theater attendees.
While the Sondheim Theatre is Campbell's most lauded local project?picking up an Award of Merit for Institutional Projects from the state's AIA chapter in 2011 and another award from the national Institute for Theater Technology?she has also done notable work elsewhere. She served as project manager on the celebrated LEED Platinum Live Work Home in Syracuse and is a regular speaker on sustainable design. "I think Pamela's going to make a difference in the world. She's very smart, she's diligent, she's humble," says Cook. "She has a way of getting her voice heard."
· Stephen Sondheim Theatre [Roundabout]
· Cookfox Architects [official site]
· All Cookfox coverage [Curbed NY]
· All Young Guns 2013 coverage [Curbed National]