Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Visit to the Wyly

This past weekend I was one of a large number of people in the city who went to see the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, and one of the things I was able to do was wrangle a personal tour of the Wyly Theatre. One advantage of doing the work that we do here at Central Dallas CDC is that we get to know a lot of architects, contractors and engineers, and I knew someone (slightly, but just well enough) that had worked on the Wyly.

It’s an extremely interesting building. It would probably be more accurate to say that it’s a machine. I can’t embed videos here, but if you follow the link to Unfair Park, you can see how the theatre changes shapes: The machinery is enormous—and very cool looking.

The structural engineering of the building is a real triumph. The entire building is supported by two X trusses, on V truss and a solid back wall. The result is a building without interior columns and with very little structure blocking the view from the interior to the exterior.

Although the building is ten-stories high, only two of the floors fill the full floor plate. Every other floor is interrupted by a two-story space or a window into the space below.

In short, the Wyly is a machine for making theatre, not really a building. In fact, one of the architects told me that so much money was spent on the interior equipment, that only limited funds were available for the shell of the building.

I have to say that given the nature of the building, I really like the extruded aluminum piping that covers the exterior. It’s brawny and modern in the real sense of the word—industrial and without excess decoration. A machine for making theatre should look like a machine.

That said, I’m not competent to judge the quality of the space as a theatre, but it surely offers the director sufficient options to best stage a play. If we get theatrical performances that equal the machine Dallas has built to stage them, then we can look forward to some outstanding theatre.

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