Central Floridians have waited decades for a concert space with the acoustical sophistication of the soon-to-be-built Steinmetz Hall but maybe no one has been more patient — or more eager — than California architect Barton Myers.
Myers’ design for Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts originally included three theaters. But then the Great Recession hit, meaning the complex had to be built in phases.
“It’s like the building was built and somebody cut my shoulder and right arm off,” Myers says by phone from Santa Barbara, where at 82 he still leads the architectural firm that bears his name.
Yet Myers leaves no doubt that the new hall will have been well worth the wait when it opens in 2020.
“From Day 1, there were always great ambitions for this,” says Myers, an internationally renowned architect whose portfolio includes performing arts centers in Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon; and Cerritos, California. “Steinmetz could be one of the most ambitious rooms in the world.”
A Virginia native, Myers studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and practiced in Toronto before moving his firm’s headquarters to Southern California. He has won major architecture awards in the U.S. and Canada, and has lectured around the world.
Myers is quick to point out that his enthusiasm for the 1,700-seat venue should take nothing away from the value of the larger Walt Disney Theater or the more intimate Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater. Each of those spaces, he says, serves an important purpose.
Myers notes that Steinmetz Hall is a modern interpretation of the traditional horseshoe-shaped concert hall. But this “multiform” theater can be adapted for other uses — without acoustical compromises — via a floor that can change from pitched to flat.
“You can’t afford to do a pure concert hall anymore,” says Myers, noting that cities demand versatility from their performing arts centers.
But, Myers adds, the utilitarian aspects of the hall need not detract from its aesthetics or its integrity as a world-class performing space. Liberal use of light cherry wood will make the room beautiful as well as acoustically “warm,” he notes.
“You can have a lovely acoustic room, but if it’s cold, the acoustics aren’t good,” Myers says. “Somehow, a wooden room has the warmth required. These rooms are like very fine-tuned instruments — like a violin or cello.”
The opening of Steinmetz Hall will complete an architectural vision based upon the principle that a performing arts center should reflect the ambiance of the city in which it’s located. “A performing arts center should be truly part of the city,” Myers says. “It should bring people together.”
That’s certainly been true of the arts center. In addition to the three indoor theaters, the sweeping Seneff Arts Plaza was designed to serve as a location for outdoor concerts and festivals.
However, the plaza played another, even more significant role when it emerged as a community gathering place — a place for grieving and healing — in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
Another design goal, Myers adds, was to create a complex that pays architectural homage to the city’s past and “tells us something about ourselves.”
For example, most Florida homes built prior to the advent of air conditioning featured spacious porches as places to escape summer’s sweltering heat. So, in designing the arts center, Myers reinterpreted the front porch with “a big shed roof.”
The arrival experience is a critical component of any public building, Myers says. The use of glass and dramatic lighting from within are intended to make the building as transparent as possible. “We want people to think: ‘That looks like fun. I want to be there,’” he adds.
Myers, whose firm has designed everything from homes to large mixed-use developments, plans to have a representative on site during construction to help implement the details of the Steinmetz Hall design.
There’s a lot at stake for his firm, and for the community. But for Myers, it’s also about his legacy. “I believe,” he says, “that this is the best thing I’ve ever done.”