Curtain goes up on green Writers Theatre

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The Writers Theatre covers an area of 36,000 sq f (3,345 sq m)(Credit: Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing)

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Reinterpretations of classic works are a stock-in-trade of Chicagoland's Writers Theatre. Now the theater itself has become a reinterpretation. The newly rebuilt facility was constructed using 98 percent of the building that stood on the site previously and boasts a host of green features.

Located north of Chicago in Glencoe, Illinois, the Writers Theatre building was developed in partnership with the Woman's Library Club – the building it has replaced – and the Village of Glencoe. Designed by the Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects, which is also involved in Chicago's upcoming Lucas Museum, it is aimed at providing a sense of intimacy, immersion and connection between artists and audiences.

Covering an area of 36,000 sq f (3,345 sq m), the US$34 million project is said to have been inspired by the timber constructions of English theaters like the Globe and the Rose, as well as the architecture in the Village of Glencoe. A modern Tudor-style design, makes use of wood, plaster and glass.

The facility is arranged in a cluster of spaces around a central hub. It houses two performance spaces – a main 250-seat thrust stage and a 99-seat flexible black box room – both of which have reconfigurable staging and seating. There are also rehearsal rooms.

The center is located in a public park and its public spaces include outdoor rooftop terraces and rooftop gardens, which can be used for events. A spacious main atrium can be opened up to flow through into the park during warm weather and has seating tribunes that act as a meeting place. A suspended gallery walkway surrounds the atrium and provides views of downtown, the lake and the nearby grove.

The building has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, the second highest LEED rating. The award takes into account the environmental planning, construction, maintenance and operation of a building, with certified buildings typically showing reductions in water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

In targeting LEED Gold, recycled, local and renewable materials are used for structural and aesthetic purposes at the Writers Theater, including nearly all of the material from the demolished Woman's Library Club building, the exterior bricks of which form an acoustic shell in the interior of the 250-seat theater.

The center's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system employs a displacement ventilation approach that delivers air from behind auditorium seats, avoiding the need for the entire interior to be air conditioned. This helps to reduce energy usage and costs. The lobby is heated from the ceiling, floor and behind the tribune seating.

Low-flow plumbing fixtures are used to keep water use to a minimum and, in addition, native plants are used for the theater's landscaping to reduce the need for irrigation. In total, water demand is said to have been reduced by over 30 percent, or more than 62,000 gal (282,000 l), than would otherwise have been the case.

The center also has a 3,800-sq ft (353-sq m) green roof that reduces water run-off and the "urban heat island" effect. Remaining roof surfaces use reflective materials for the same purpose.

The entire center is fully ADA-compliant, with accessible ramps and elevators, and is also equipped with a state-of-the art hearing induction loop throughout the performance spaces, the Litowitz Atrium and the Green Family rehearsal room.

The Writers Theater was completed earlier this year and opened to the public on Feb. 12.

The video below provides a virtual tour of the new theater.

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