Moscone Center Expansion
San Francisco, California, United States
Located on San Francisco’s Market Street, the Strand Theater is a restored 100-year-old movie theater that has been transformed into an experimental performance space. With a new structural system and graphic identity, the renovated theater energizes the surrounding neighborhood.
The SOM-led renovation of the Strand Theater revitalizes a 100-year-old movie theater on San Francisco’s Market Street to provide a highly visible performance space for the city’s preeminent theater company, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.). The redefined theater incorporates educational facilities, a new 282-seat theater, a 120-seat black box theater and rehearsal space, stage support, a public lobby, and a café. These new elements are inserted within the shell of the former 800-seat cinema, overlaying essential modern theater elements on top of the raw backdrop of the original building.
The design creates an inspiring civic presence by opening the lobby and facade to the street and sidewalk, energizing both the building and the surrounding neighborhood, and representing a key component to the regeneration of this once vital part of the city. The Strand Theater is strategically located between the city’s booming retail district and Civic Center, in the midst of tech companies and residential developments that have begun to transform the neighborhood.
SOM’s design includes a meticulous restoration of the historic facade to preserve the character of the original exterior while also revealing new interior elements. The cast stone relief that once adorned the street level theater entrance has been replaced, while a new lightweight steel and glass canopy replaces a deteriorating 1950s marquee. The new canopy recalls the original 1918 projecting canopy, extending across the full width of the facade. The upper two levels of the building feature the original oak windows that have been restored to frame views from the new black box theater beyond.
The theater’s lobby has been conceived as a dynamic stage set where students and audience members are performers and the stair, balcony, and transparent LED scrim are a backdrop. The lobby is activated by the box office, café, and an open plan that accommodates pre-show gatherings. Double-height windows offer dramatic views from the street into the lobby and from the lobby toward Market Street. The centerpiece of the lobby is a suspended, transparent LED scrim that spans the full height of the space.
A central stair is organized around the scrim and links the theater on the lower levels to the black box theater at the upper level. Recalling the movie screen from the theater’s years as a cinema, the scrim wall displays a wide range of still and motion images, video art, and branding, as well as the graphic identity for performances and special events. The scrim also serves as a marquee, displaying information for upcoming shows and events. Even when the theater is closed, the imagery on the scrim dramatically transforms the character of the building, projecting the energy of the theater into the street.
It was our goal from the beginning to create a thrilling public space that would not only invite theatergoers inside but truly transform a neighborhood… The results are beyond what we could have dreamed.
As part of the renovation, SOM developed a graphic identity for the intimate performance venue and education center—one clearly identifiable as A.C.T., a 50-year-old institution, but tailored to reflect the new space and its mission. Focused on new work, emerging artists, arts education, and community outreach, the Strand’s identity had to convey the unadorned immediacy of experimental theater and reflect the gritty, transitional aspects of its surrounding neighborhood.
The stencil, a staple of backstage labeling, was used to express the direct, stripped-down simplicity of the Strand’s space and program. This theme was carried throughout the building’s environmental graphics and signage, including the exterior blade and canopy, interior wayfinding, and donor wall. Lettering and pictograms were painted directly on the walls, or cut into metal sheets to resemble industrial stencil sets.
The building’s historic shell was carefully upgraded with a new structural system. Existing load-bearing systems were retrofitted and rehabilitated in a way that reuses 81 percent of the original steel and concrete structure, thereby reducing the carbon impact of construction. Supported by a new floor plate, an upper-level multipurpose space is used as a black box theater, rehearsal room, and classroom. A basement level was excavated below the proscenium theater’s stage to house the actors’ lounge and dressing rooms.
The original second floor of the theater was demolished to create a double-height lobby, which reduces the foundation loads impacting the underground BART and Muni rail structures. Further spatial drama is added through the addition of cantilevered viewing balconies, a monumental stair, and mezzanine levels that extend from the building’s core into the lobby’s 60,000-cubic-foot void.
Shear walls are added to reinforce The Strand’s structure and incorporate the architectural concept of layering into the interior design. By articulating a series of frames from the stage to the street, the structure helps express the theater’s new form, which revitalizes not only the building but also the surrounding neighborhood.
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