Performative Millwork: The Coca-Cola Stage at Alliance Theatre

Architecture firm: Trahan Architects

Owner: The Woodruff Arts Center, The Alliance Theatre

Location: Atlanta, GA

Category: Development of Design or Design-Thinking

Traditional project delivery methods rely on a linear process. The flaw of this linear process is that neither Trahan Architects nor CW Keller benefits from either parties learned knowledge. It was critical for this project’s success that everyone agree this process was outdated and would harm the final product. Rather than a linear work flow, our team adopted augmented reality integration. There was constant sharing and updating of information at every step of the delivery process. This circular feedback allowed CW Keller to notify Trahan Architects and the contractor of potential clashes in the field, which in turn enabled the architects to adjust the geometry of the millwork layouts to prevent those clashes. Laser scanning and projection provided the key to this process.

About the millwork

The primary challenges of fabricating the millwork scope for this theater project were:

  1. working with Matthias Pliessnig to accurately translate the material properties of hand steam-bent millwork into a digital environment
  2. synthesizing the acoustic properties for spoken word theater
  3. working with CW Keller to mass produce steam-bent millwork with 1/32nd tolerances and crafting a production process that minimized waste

Trahan Architects, Matthias Pliessnig, and CW Keller leveraged a series of 1:1 mockups to define a database of material behaviors, achievable curvatures, material saving jigs, and acoustic strategies. The resulting design, which synthesizes both aesthetic and acoustic properties, required a fabrication workflow which merged hand-crafted steam bending with complex 3D laser projection and laser scanning. Trahan Architects developed scripting techniques to provide layouts of over 100,000 linear feet of millwork slat centerlines to the fabricator. The result is a series of beautiful steam-bent millwork guardrails and balconies that merge handcraft with mass production. The synthesis of acoustic performance, hand-driven artistry, and sophisticated laser positioning are all carefully choreographed to execute the complex steam-bent millwork without the need for wasteful CNC molds. Delivered for $350/sq ft, the product has proven to be both economical and stunning.

Owner's statement

By Susan V. Booth, Jennings Hertz Artistic Director, Alliance Theatre

My thought was, let’s dream big…and one thing we identified was a world-class theatre that welcomed everyone, that removed visible and invisible barriers. We had the courage of our aspirations. And the question became: How do we get there? The design, inherently unites each performance's audience into a fostered and connected community, and provides not simply a frame for the work we do, but a graceful conduit for the work to land in the heads and hearts of those folks.

"This project combined great use of custom, handmade techniques with integrated technology, offering an elegant blend of ancient and modern fabrication techniques applied to a functional, economical, and stunningly beautiful space." ~ Jury statement

Additional information

Project attributes

Date of construction contract: April 3, 2015

Estimated date of completion: November 1, 2019

Construction documents phase: 8 months

Building area - Total Gross Square Feet (GSF): 70,000

Building area - Net Assignable Area (NAA): approximately 43,000 sq ft

Building area - building efficiency ratio (GSF/NAA): 61 percent

Cost - estimated: $23.5 million

Cost - actual: $23.5 million

Project team

Acoustics: Talaske Group

Artist Collaboration: Matthias Pliessnig

Client Representation: The Winstead Group

Construction Manager: Hogan Construction Group

Engineer - MEP: DLB Associates Consulting Engineers

Engineer - Structural: Uzun + Case

Signage and Wayfinding: Thirst

Life Safety: Jensen Hughes

Lighting Designer: Fisher Marantz Stone

Millwork Fabrication: CW Keller Associates

Project and Cost Management: Cost+ Plus

Theater Planning: Theatre Projects Consultants

Vertical Transportation: Lerch Bates


Anthony Hauck, Chair, Hypar AEC, Waltham, Massachusetts

Phillip Bernstein, FAIA, Yale School of Architecture, New Haven, Connecticut

Desiree Mackey, GEI Consultants, Denver, CO

Sera Maloney, The Foth Companies, Lake Elmo, Minnesota

Natasha Luthra, Jacobs, Philadelphia, PA

Image credits


CW Keller

AIA Innovation 2

CW Keller


CW Keller

AIA_Innovation _5

Greg Mooney


Greg Mooney

Inside Alliance Theatre

Trahan Architects