St. Bernard Parish Cultural Arts CenterChalmette, Louisiana
The cultural arts center was designed to fulfill the needs and aspirations of a thriving performing arts program while affirming a community’s identity and perseverance in the wake of catastrophe. The project was part of the St. Bernard Parish School Board’s bold rebuilding program in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The 90,000 square foot building shares a full city block with a new ninth grade school (designed by others), connected by foot bridge to the existing Chalmette High School. A palette of durable materials, including brick, stucco, concrete, and stainless steel, signals permanence. Sail-like fabric panels shade the entry path and soften the concrete colonnade.
At the building’s heart is a 420-seat theatre equipped with a fly loft, an orchestra pit, and support spaces for costumes and scene making. This main theatre volume, clad in custom-designed matte stainless steel panels that accommodate its curving walls, rises high above the surrounding construction and neighboring buildings. The remaining lower spaces take the form of a crooked bar that negotiates the limited building site while cradling the main theatre. Contained within this bar are a smaller, 120-seat theatre, classrooms for music and dance instruction, musical practice rooms, community meeting spaces, and separate libraries for the school and the public. At both theatres intimacy and optimum sightlines are achieved by terracing the seating upward from the first floor to the second. At the main theatre, projection of sound from the stage is enhanced by a convex plaster acoustical reflector. Users can further modulate the acoustics of the space through adjustment of absorbent side and rear curtains, which can be drawn into pockets for a more resonant room. At the smaller theatre, daylight streams in through a long clerestory window during lectures but can be limited during performances or video projection by means of motorized shades. The main stage and two dance instruction rooms feature resilient subflooring with coverings specialized for either ballet or tap. Extensive glass curtainwall enlivens the libraries and the two-story lobby and achieves transparency with the community. A coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating areas is a further community draw and can offer concessions to theatre-goers.