Diamond + Schmitt’s Sidney Harman Hall opens in Washington, DC

On October 1st, Sidney Harman Hall, the new home of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, opened in Washington DC with a gala performance. This is an important project for Washington, as the Shakespeare Theatre Company has played a significant role in the redevelopment of downtown Washingtons historic business district, helping to transform a depressed underutilized retail corridor into a vibrant hub of commerce, culture and residential development. In recognition of the significant role that this cultural project plays, the City contributed $20 million to the project.

Designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects, Sidney Harman Hall is set within a new office tower with its footprint is aligned perpendicular to F Street, allowing for maximum street exposure and a direct connection to the street life. The three-level glass façade, distinguished by a projected bay window, establishes the buildings identity and purpose, and directly links the activity within the public lobby areas with the vibrant surrounding environment.

The 775-seat performance space occupies the first 5.5 floors of an 11-storey office tower. This new facility, along with the Shakespeare Theatre Companys existing home the Lansburgh Theatre constitutes the Harman Center for the Arts. Designed to address the Shakespeare Theatre Companys expanded programming mission, this new venue allows for a wide variety of staging configurations proscenium, thrust, semi-arena or bare as well as for the presentation of dance and music events. Acoustically, the space has been rendered for the spoken word and also can be easily adapted for chamber music as well as live, amplified or recorded music.

The street-level entrance lobby consists of the box office and gift shop. The orchestra lobby level is extended out over the sidewalk within the glass bay window. The balcony lobby level overlooks the orchestra lobby below, visually connecting the audiences on both levels.

The auditorium is separated from the rest of the public spaces by a three-foot-wide slot. This separation not only symbolically separates the world of the theatre from the real world but also acoustically isolates the performance area from the rest of the building. A series of bridges connect the lobby areas to the performance space. Offices are provided for the production directors and for front- and back-of-house staff. In addition to ample-sized dressing rooms and the green room, the below-grade level also includes a multi-purpose space that can be used for rehearsals, educational programs and special events. This space is supported by audio-visual facilities and a catering kitchen.