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Construction Underway at Clark’s Michelson Theater

rendering of the exterior of the michelson theater at night

Construction began this summer on an extensive renovation to the Michelson Theater in the Little Center at Clark University, which will transform the entire interior, make improvements to the exterior and provide fully accessible and modern theater, lobby, classroom and other spaces. The renovated building will reopen early next summer.

The Little Center first opened in 1967 as a student dining hall, but within ten years was being reconfigured for their arts programs, including the addition of the Michelson Theater. Originally designed by The Architects Collaborative, a well-known Massachusetts firm, the building presented some challenges and opportunities that LPA|A was excited to take on.

interior photo from the 1960s showing the original design of the theater building as a cafeteria
Over the course of a decades-long relationship, LPA|A has designed multiple projects for Clark University including the addition/renovation of the President’s residence, the Admissions Center, and Servery full renovations. Clark brought on LPA|A to help reimagine their Michelson Theater and modernize the space, while maintaining the unique, architecturally expressive, and open design of the original building.

The main theater on the first floor, including the lobby area, will be transformed. It is expected to have a capacity of roughly 200, but the black box theater will be a flexible space for a variety of productions, and the large lobby space will allow people to gather before performances. Sculptural lighting and space for displays and presentations in the lobby will enhance the overall experience for audiences.

Making the building fully accessible was a primary focus for the renovation, so the addition of an elevator is a key component of the project. Reconfigured restrooms, new doors, hardware, and signage also are designed with accessibility as the goal. The second floor, which was previously wheelchair inaccessible, will support classroom space, administrative offices, and a second, smaller theater space. This new experimental theater space will have a capacity of under 50 and the flexible space is expected to support unconventional performances.

rendering of the theater lobby at Clark University's Michelson Theater
The entire building will be upgraded and renovated to provide all new lighting and theatrical controls. With new plumbing and mechanical systems, the building will be fully air conditioned and brought up to current standards. The original design of the building, with cast-in-place concrete and exposed brick, makes it well suited for the Visual and Performing Arts department, providing an open space and an interesting backdrop, but was a creative challenge for designers tasked with integrating modern systems and technology.

The exterior of the building will also see multiple enhancements, including a new walkway from the street, a new roof, and a new marquee. The 50-year-old building will once again be a hub and focal point for the campus when it re-opens in 2022, modern and accessible while respecting and elevating its original design.

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