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Projects

The Gold Standard

PROJECT
David L. Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA

ARCHITECT
Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP, Philadelphia, PA; Daniela Holt Voith, AIA, LEED AP, principal in charge; Jonathan Krumrine, AIA, LEED AP, project manager; Robert Piasecki, AIA, LEED AP, project manager

GENERAL CONTRACTOR
E. Allen Reeves, Inc., Abington, PA

LEED
Gold

By Annabel Hsin

The William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, PA, is the oldest Quaker school in the world. It was one of the first schools to teach children from all religious backgrounds, offer financial aid and educate students from all races, including girls. The independent school for grades Pre-K-12 is situated on a 44-acre campus; its divisions are housed in buildings designed to meet specific student needs. When the school's growing performing arts program warranted a separate building, it was quick to embrace sustainability by constructing the neighborhood's first LEED Gold-certified building, the David L. Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts.

In 2006, Penn Charter initiated plans for a $15-million performing arts center and hired Philadelphia, PA-based Voith & Mactavish Architects for their extensive experience in sustainable design. The school envisioned a building that would fit seamlessly with its traditional Quaker architecture yet also include sustainable features and contemporary elements. "With this particular building, we really designed it in composition with the main building," says Daniela Holt Voith, principal. "Since the main building is such an iconic building and has been for 90 years, we didn't want the new building to overshadow it in any way. However, as it is a performing arts center, the new building needed to have its own sense of importance. We designed it to complement the main building, looking very carefully at the window detailing and dentil moldings – all of those pieces underscore that the two buildings relate to each other. But then we gave it the 'front porch' to set it apart, creating a sense of drama and opportunities for 'see and be seen' moments on performance nights."

The performing arts center is sited on the southwest side of the main building and is surrounded by a parking lot on two sides, a new quad (that was formerly a parking roundabout) and a new playground to the rear. The 30,000-sq.ft. building houses a proscenium theater that seats 639 people, a lobby, band room, choir room, music computer lab, practice rooms, restrooms, dressing rooms, a coat room, faculty offices and storage areas. At the rear, a theater crossover is enclosed with a wraparound porch that doubles as an outdoor stage, which relates to the traditionally styled porch on the main elevation.

"When marrying the traditional and contemporary, I'm particularly interested in what I call a narrative approach to design, so essentially there's a story," says Voith. "The story for this building would be that the porch was initially an open space, which had been enclosed at some point in its history. It gives us a methodology by which we can suggest a dialog between the existing campus and the new additions as we make design decisions that establish the aesthetic. There's a rigor and a discipline to the place making."

The front porch, characterized by a fully developed order of triglyphs, metopes and guttae supported by two-story Doric columns, is enclosed with an aluminum and glass curtain wall. The interiors are lined with painted lap siding and accented red walls. The lobby features a dramatic grand stair with glass risers and guards, a stainless steel handrail as well as floating slate treads on steel stringers that complement the tile floor. Custom light fixtures, fabricated by Chestertown, MD-based Deep Landing Workshop, illuminate the interior at night to create a lantern-like appearance from the exterior.

Numerous rounds of mock-ups were conducted to match existing materials for the exterior. Wissahickon Schist stonewalls, supplied by Corrado & Sons of Souderton, PA, were installed in the exact pattern of the main building, even replicating the gentle quoining of the masonry. The Vermont slate tile, manufactured by Vermont Structural Slate Company of Fair Haven, VT, modulates in color and graduates in size and thickness in the same manner as the roof on the existing architecture. The double-hung wood windows also match the proportions and muntin patterns, and were manufactured by Warroad, MN-based Marvin Windows and Doors. Fiber cement lap siding and panels manufactured by James Hardie of Mission Viejo, CA, complete the exterior.

A traditional color scheme of red textiles and FSC-Certified cherry wood paneling (manufactured by Hainsport, NJ-based CBR Woodworking) were used in the interior of the theater. A fully accessible control room and three safe catwalks for lighting are at the balcony level. Instead of traditional theater boxes, the second level balcony seats are arranged in a single row and its lights can be dimmed for smaller audiences. The rails are designed with an antiqued copper mesh.

"The theater is really a teaching tool for the school," says Voith. "The students are just learning the art of performance on a stage in front of a large audience, so one of our goals was to make the theater as compact as possible, supporting a very intimate connection between the performer and the audience. We 'peopled the walls' by wrapping the house with a balcony, so students onstage looking up can see friendly faces. When the audience is smaller, the balcony can be closed off to keep the house feeling full."

In addition to its 12-in. solid-masonry walls and a drywall barrier-ceiling, the theater is topped with a 10,000-sq.ft. green roof of varietal sedums. (OptiGreen by Conservation Technology, Baltimore, MD; plants from Mother Plants, Ithaca, NY) It provides additional thermal and sound isolation, and also captures storm water, reduces the heat-island effect and protects the roof membrane. "We were aiming for LEED Gold from the get-go," says Voith. "One of the big moves was to put a green roof on the building and that really helped us with incredibly stringent storm water controls that had just come into play in the city of Philadelphia. This is one of the first projects in the city that received credit for storm water-retention basin reduction because of the green roof."

Since the project necessitated over an acre of site disturbance, it required approval from the Philadelphia Water Department, as well as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection; the former had just implemented new water regulations that were incompatible with existing state requirements. Among other things, approval from both agencies was obtained by the installation of a 9,500-sq.ft. infiltration bed under the adjacent lacrosse field. The new basin retains water and slowly releases it back into the ground without passing through the city's municipal system.

The two cupolas alongside the green roof contain motorized operable windows that allow them to act as natural ventilation systems, utilizing a heat-stack effect to ventilate hot air as well as natural lighting for the band and choir rooms below. Parts of the cupolas are made with double wall construction to acoustically isolate the space from mechanical equipment on the roof. The cupolas also complement the iconic Quaker clock tower and an additional cupola on the main building.

Additional sustainable features include dual flush toilets with timers, recycled-glass terrazzo for restrooms and energy-efficient light fixtures coupled with room-occupancy sensors that turn lights off when rooms are empty. High-occupancy rooms are installed with carbon dioxide sensors that trigger the HVAC to import outside air only when spaces are utilized. Acoustical ceiling tiles were made from recycled materials.

Completed in 2010, the David L. Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts has accrued 50 LEED points and is now LEED Gold certified. It is also estimated to save over $22,000 in annual energy costs when compared to a baseline design. "One of the strongest design decisions was the approach to the site," says Voith. "We chose to reuse existing roads and parking lots in order to minimize site disturbance, and we reclaimed an area that had been paved as a turnabout by turning it into green play space, which reduces storm water runoff." She adds that the clients see this building as an opportunity to expand their performing arts program and have already received positive feedback from students and parents. TB

 

 

 
 

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