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Sense of Place

Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State, Northridge

University Business, April 2011
The exterior of the facility looks inviting from many different vantage points.Inside the concert hall (below), wood ribbons and custom screen panels enhance both the aesthetics and acoustics.

A dream for San Fernando Valley officials for 30 years and a campus plan for the past decade has finally become reality at California State University, Northridge.

  • FUNCTION: The 166,000-square-foot Valley Performing Arts Center (PAC), designed to exceed LEED silver standards, is comprised of two connected buildings forming one U-shaped multiuse building around a central courtyard. It has a 1,700-seat, three-tier concert hall, plus a 175-seat black box theatre, rehearsal rooms, academic and production support spaces, classrooms, a lecture hall, and offices.
  • CHALLENGES: Cal State, Northridge had a few on-campus theaters, but about the maximum capacity of the largest one was about 500 seats. "That significantly limits the types of performances you can do," says Colin Donahue, associate vice president for facilities development and operations, adding that the institution is very well known for its arts programs. With most of the area's cultural entertainment being in Los Angeles, the surrounding community also had to go far to attend most professional performances.

After years of planning, officials broke ground on the center in March 2008. Later that year, a cash crisis forced the state to shut down all bond-funded construction. "We had the largest project [in the state] that really had a significant impact from that closure," reports Donahue. The suspension lasted about two months and had repercussions for the PAC, which was in the concrete stage at the time and had mechanical and electrical equipment that had to be protected. Despite a delayed opening, though, the academic spaces were completed in time for none of those programs to be impacted, says Gary Reetz, vice president and principal with HGA Architects and Engineers.

  • SOLUTION: Now the campus and the community can attend most any type of performance close by. "The bar was set much higher than for a typical academic setting. The PAC was programmed, planned, designed, and detailed to accommodate professional performances for music, theatre, dance, film, and other touring events," says Reetz. The lobby and exterior were designed to be visible spaces that look inviting from many directions.

Under a master plan approved in 2006, the university selected a site near the future PAC for a new parking structure, designed for the daily commuter load but convenient for during events. "Everybody wants parking right next to their seat," Donahue says. Not quite possible?but a short walk from the structure takes people right through the campus orange grove.

During two beta tests and an opening gala, Donahue says it really occurred to him that the PAC is a game changer. "It's going to take the campus and the valley to the next level." It's a facility "you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the country," he adds. "To a lot of people here, this is really a dream come true."

  • COST: $125 million (about half from state bond appropriations)
  • COMPLETED: January 2011
  • PROJECT TEAM: HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis; C.W. Driver Builders, Pasadena, Calif.