Combining one of San Antonio’s most beloved architectural icons with advanced technology to create one of the most flexible multi-purpose performance halls in the United States, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts embraces the multi-faceted cultural identity of the city with a complex tapestry of form, materiality, light, and landscape. Drawing inspiration from San Antonio’s rich vernacular of color, pattern and public celebration, this “performing arts center for everyone” offers a diverse architectural experience capable of continuous transformation in response to changing audiences, uses, and surroundings.
Site and Program
The aspirations for the renovation/expansion project were threefold: to create a large, flexible, multi-use performance space with acoustics comparable to the world’s finest concert halls; to renew the Spanish Colonial style historic building for future generations; and to create a vibrant connection between the city’s main cultural venue and the River Walk. While retaining the Municipal Auditorium’s treasured historic façade, the Tobin Center weaves a new 183,000-square foot facility into its framework of public space—including a 1,768-seat main performance hall, a 231-seat studio theater, and a 600-seat event plaza.
The diverse program expansion called for a grand, unifying design gesture, combining new and old architectural components. The solution—an all-encompassing metallic veil—sculpturally expresses and celebrates the cultural life of contemporary San Antonio with references to the filigreed forms of Spanish Colonial ironwork, the delicate lace of festival costumery and the filtered daylight of the River Walk landscape. As night falls and the River Walk transitions into a festival-like atmosphere, embedded LEDs are choreographed with the evening’s performance.
The new event plaza connects the site for the first time with the River Walk’s network of walkways along the San Antonio River, positioned one-story lower than the streets of downtown. The high glass entrance lobby to the Alvarez Family Studio Theater overlooks the plaza, creating strong linkages between the different venue elements as an integral aspect to the arrival experience from the river.
Addressing the formal street grid of downtown San Antonio to the south, the interior of the historic Municipal Auditorium façade is reimagined through the McCombs Grand Lobby, a towering sequence of volumetric spaces at the interface of the historic building and new program. A wall of sculpted panels, whose form follows the compound curvature of the performance hall and swells outward to engage the full height of the lobby volume, progressively shifts in algorithmic contours, recalling the flow of the river and regional tile work. Midway to the ceiling, a row of small openings reveals the deep red color of the auditorium beyond.
Themes of transformation, adaptability, and diversity come to their fullest expression in the H-E-B Performance Hall. The room can rapidly change seating and stage geometry, lighting, color and acoustics to suit the unique qualities and objectives of each performance—in effect giving the city many venues in one and providing local arts groups with unlimited possibilities to attract new audiences with innovative programming.
LMN Tech Studio
The metallic veil that enwraps the program volumes creates a distinctive presence on the San Antonio skyline, changing in appearance with different patterns of daylight and coming alive at night with programmable LEDs. While the veil was not originally designed with a parametric model, the LMN Tech Studio was asked to re-model the system parametrically in order to facilitate continual adjustments to the geometry during the detailing process. Using the power of parametrics to establish mathematical rules governing the form and construction of the system, the project team could make continuous modifications at a high level and let the software re-draw the details of the resulting panel configurations. This resulted in the ability to provide instant material takeoffs and cost estimates for each proposed modification.
The opportunity to create a multiple-story feature wall in the Grand Lobby also drew on the LMN Tech Studio’s modeling and fabrication expertise. The wall follows the compound curvature of the performance hall, swelling outward as it rises from the lobby floor. A sequence of 15 unique panel types interlock across the surface to create a progressively shifting surface texture, reminiscent of both the flow of the San Antonio River and the deep regional culture of patterned tile work. The team used parametric modeling to sculpt the wall at 3 scales: the overall shape, the breakdown of the curved surface into panels, and the articulation of each panel to produce the overall texture. The resulting 3D models of the panels were used to create plaster molds for study, and then sent directly to the fabricator to generate full-scale mockups.
A detailed exploration of the LMN Tech Studio’s technical process on the Tobin Center is available on the LMN Tech Studio Blog: http://lmnarchitects.com/tech-studio/fabrication/tcpa-intro/