Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, OH
Photography: Ricky Rhodes, Paul Sabota, Tanya Rosen-Jones, Tim Si and JKURTZ Architects
Firm of record: Westlake Reed Leskosky
Jonathan Kurtz, WRL Principal and Lead Designer
Fitted into a basement storage area within the new Oberlin Hotel, the William and Helen Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space is a subterranean club accommodating 100 guests. By day it serves as a teaching space; by night it features conservatory performances and events. The core challenge was to develop a performance, arts and entrepreneurship venue that would be run by the college but provide the experience of conservatory students having booked their first gig.
Given the absence of natural light, the project focuses on atmospheric materiality. We shift between matte and luster, hard and soft, rich and desaturated. Soft grey concrete with grey felt curtains. Rubber, polished to a gloss to undermine its malleability and powder-coated steel perforated to belie its hardness. Matte, stained, natural, and polished cork and concrete. Bronze and cork recede to black and blackness takes on their warmth. The result is an elemental space that grows in depth as you inhabit it.
Inserted into the existing space are 5 discrete assemblies which offer the programmatic requirements of the venue.
Stage - set at the far end, a bronze clad ingot, carved volumetrically to reveal an absorptive cork interior, lends hierarchy and attention for lectures. It doubles as an acoustically variable classroom and houses the green room and backstage infrastructure.
Bar - clad in cork and rubber and consisting of two private booths.
Framework - calibrated to the rhythm of the concrete formwork - a simple array of flexible linear brackets anchor the infrastructure, acoustic absorption, active chilled beams, lighting, sound etc.
Stair - in addition to providing access from the street above, this assembly of uniformly rendered black steel provides acoustic separation between pre-function and performance; forming the vestibule between the two.
Service - three all-gender stalls share a common washing station which doubles volumetrically as a pre-function gallery space.