ARTS Center Stage making the Big Decision: What architect is going to transform Palmer Auditorium into the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
By Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 12, 1999
From the folks who gave you the Sears Tower: The new Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts. That's right, Chicago-based architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the firm that turned out that Windy City skyscraper, as well as Chicago's Hancock Center, Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Gardens, and Shanghai's new Jin Mao Tower, has won the plum job of renovating Palmer Auditorium. The board of trustees for ARTS Center Stage, the cultural organization created to turn Palmer into a performing arts center, made the decision official in a vote during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 9. According to Wayne Bell, Professor Emeritus in the UT School of Architecture and chair of ARTS Center Stage's design committee, the factor that gave Skidmore, Owings & Merrill the edge over the other two Long Center finalists, Barton Myers Associates and Polshek Partnership Architects, was its experience with modernist structures in the Palmer vein. Indeed, a quick survey of the firm's past and present projects on its extensive Web site (http://www.som.com) reveals much of the firm's works to be based in that sort of monumental minimalism of post-war American architecture. You can imagine Palmer fitting quite snugly between the Korea World Trade Center and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. As to what kind of cultural treasure these architectural wizards will make of the humble turtle of Auditorium Shores, one can only guess now. But looking at the firm's images of the Sioux City Art Center in Sioux City, Iowa, Symphony Center in Chicago, or LG Kangnam Art Hall in Seoul offers some suggestions. And appealing suggestions they are, too. Trivia note: This won't be SOM's first creation of an Austin landmark; the firm previously designed the LBJ Library on the UT Austin campus.
It was quite the busy week for ARTS Center Stage. In addition to making the big decision noted above, the organization decided to delay the Long Center's opening by a year, in deference to a request by the city of Austin. As you know, the creation of the Long Center isn't a project unto itself; it's inextricably tied to the creation of a new civic center that will in practicality -- and in name, too -- be the new Palmer, the facility housing the record conventions, boat shows, collectors' expos, and assorted other public events currently held in the auditorium, so that no one is displaced by the Palmer-to-Long Center makeover. The initial timeline called for the civic center and a new parking garage to be built in 2000 and completed by early 2001, but the city had begun feeling the pinch of a deadline it wasn't sure it could meet and so requested more time from ARTS Center Stage. But granting that time was not the simple decision it might appear, not given the history of this particular nonprofit. As you may recall, ARTS Center Stage was born out of a need for Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Symphony, and Ballet Austin -- all of which made their performing home at Bass Concert Hall -- to find a new base of operations by the 2003-04 season, when the UT Performing Arts Center could no longer guarantee them premium dates on its expanding schedule. For ARTS Center Stage to say yes to the city, the PAC needed to say yes to ALO, ASO, and BA for that crucial season. Fortunately for all parties, the PAC did. So ARTS said yes, and the timeline for the Long Center grew by a year last week.