Connecticut College, Athey Center for Research and Performance at Palmer Auditorium

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Connecticut College, Athey Center for Research and Performance at Palmer Auditorium

The revitalization of the 1939 Art Deco building reinforces the Athey Center’s role as a space for assembly, artistic production, and teaching on the Connecticut College campus.

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“The renovations have resulted in a magnificent transformation that promises to make the Athey Center a destination for the region and an inspiration for future generations of student performers ready to make a difference with their art."

Katherine Bergeron, President of Connecticut College
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Through a series of focused interventions that respond to the building’s historic architecture, the revitalization establishes communal spaces that heighten the building’s porosity and create a sense of community. The project includes a new entrance, a complete façade renewal, and interior renovation to the auditorium, lobbies, lounge, costume and workshop, as well as teaching, administrative, and support spaces.

Located at on the South edge of campus, along a main campus pedestrian spine, Athey Center serves as a campus anchor and front door. Athey Center is connected to Cummings Art Center by Castle Court, a sculpture garden used for seasonal campus events, and together the buildings establish a cultural zone on the Connecticut College campus.

Central to the project is a historically informed renovation of Palmer Auditorium, the iconic Art Deco theater designed in 1939 by William F. Lamb. Now home to Connecticut College’s Theater Department, when Palmer Auditorium was first built, it was conceived as a gift back to the community of New London. The space has a storied history and is well-known for hosting performances from acclaimed musicians, dancers, and performers such as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the American Dance Festival, Alvin Ailey, Dizzy Gillespie, Martha Graham, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. The renovation respects the original character of the building, while modernizing the structure to better support teaching, learning, and performance across a spectrum of disciplines. The design emphasizes the historic nature of Palmer Auditorium by enhancing the Art Deco metalwork on the exterior of the building and restoring the original lighting fixtures, which now hold a more prominent place in the lobbies.

“The design seamlessly blends old and new, bringing the beloved Palmer Auditorium into the 21st century with inviting, light-filled spaces that emphasize accessibility and technological refurbishments to better support creative research and collaboration.”

Molly McGowan, Ennead Partner

The auditorium renovation reshapes and replaces the auditorium seating to include ADA access, better sightlines, and improved intimacy. These adjustments will reduce the existing seat count of 1,289 to 1,012. The transformation also includes reshaping of the auditorium ceiling, new stage, new lighting positions, and improved AV technology to attract and support artistic productions and artists across a spectrum of disciplines. Re-opening the original auditorium windows also invigorates the space.

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By making small adjustments to the building plans within the existing footprint, the design provides a new lounge area and box office off of Tempel Green with an expanded public lobby. The lobby spaces on two levels were re-imagined to serve as informal teaching and study spaces. Two key elements were introduced at the main level lobby: a highly visible entry to the Theater Department’s administrative suite and a visual connection to the newly created teaching studio. Moreover, the new Theater Department suite is consolidated in the south wing adjacent to the auditorium, displacing the old teaching studio that was compromised by low ceiling height. It now provides a light-filled gathering place for staff and students alike.

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Details

Year
2022
Location
New London, CT
Size
38,860 GSF
Program
Auditorium, lobby, workshop, classroom, lounge, office, costume shop, teaching studio, dressing room, performance support

Team

Ennead Design Team
Molly McGowan, Stephen PD Chu, Francelle Lim, Brian Masuda, Liz Kneller, M. Gregory Clawson, Eileen Dirks, Marcus Miller, Devin Murray, Suzanne Troiano, Kate Wang
Photography
Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects