The colonnade and lobby is a welcoming front door to the theater arts.
Removable railings and seating offer flexibility for teaching and performance.
The black box theatre is used for a variety of experimental performances.
Center for Dramatic Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The existing performing arts theater on this southern university campus housed a non-profit professional repertory company and the graduate programs of the university in a triangularly shaped box-like structure. The facility was inadequate for both the growing enrollments in the theater disciplines and the company’s needs. Additionally, department functions were scattered in six buildings across the campus.

Although a major gateway into this precinct of the campus, the existing building was recessed from the street. Since department functions were also scattered throughout multiple buildings, the drama department lacked an identifiable presence. A lack of departmental consolidation also severely limited interaction between students, faculty and staff members and restricted undergraduate student exposure to the professional theater.

The challenge was to bring together the entire program, including teaching, rehearsal and performance, in an economical solution that establishes a strong identity for the university.

An addition to the theater features a curving colonnade with a glass clerestory and creates a new identity for the entire department. The form of the addition minimizes the sharp-edged facade of the existing theater building and acts as a forecourt to the performance theater within. Its sweeping form also engages the street edge, creating a new major entry sequence onto campus. The curving form of the addition also helps to marry the odd geometry of the triangularly shaped building into the grid of the campus. A warm brick was selected to complement the material vocabulary of the campus, together with an abundance of glass to animate the site at night when most performances take place.

The university was fortunate to have a professional local repertory company in residence, allowing for the addition to be organized with the teaching and rehearsal components together. As a result, the main performance theater remained in the existing building and the teaching/rehearsal theater in the addition was designed as a flexible black box. A variety of flexible seating arrangements allow for both the company rehearsal needs and the university’s teaching needs.

At the second level, the clerestory brings light into the upper band of offices and studios, offers views out to a protected forested area, and gives the visitor a sense of being nestled into a wooded environment.

The unified functions of the existing theater and new building allow teaching, rehearsal and performance elements to act synergistically between the university and the professional company, giving students a valuable exposure to the profession. With all departmental functions as well as professional performance needs provided for, including the costume/wardrobe operations, paint/scene shops, and studios for movement, voice and acting practice, the new facility is truly a unified workshop for discovery rather than a dry academic space.

This exploration into blurring the boundaries between academic training and professional exposure has dramatically raised the profile of the university’s graduate program in the theater arts.




47,000 SF


Jonathan Hillyer