The Strand, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Location: San Francisco, California
The Strand, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) by SOM is a recipient of the 2016 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture. The Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture celebrate the most innovative and spectacular interior spaces.
The dramatic rebirth of a theater built in 1917 on San Francisco's Market Street created a stellar new venue for live theatre that pays homage to the original wherever possible.
The Strand Theater was a derelict structure after 2003, when a vice raid closed down its last incarnation, a porn theater. Restoring it as a home for a theater company was an important piece of the city's revitalization of the long-deteriorating neighborhood, which included construction of a landmark federal building immediately behind the Strand.
From the first approach, the new Strand reveals itself to be a lively place, a home of creativity. What had been a cramped, single-story lobby has been opened up three stories high, so that the brightness and activity inside seem partnered with the life on the sidewalk.
Once inside, visitors find a space whose several levels of walkways suggest a multi-level stage set, with a two-story LED screen that harks back to the theater's days showing movies, and letters salvaged from the old marquee that spell out STRAND hanging above the cafe. While contemporary staircases and ramps replaced a grand onyx staircase, the old-timer's footprint is inscribed in the floor as a memorial.
"Really good job of taking something old and making it more contemporary." - Jury comment
In the main proscenium theater, original plaster walls, wall pilasters and ceiling details are intact, but overlaid with modern lighting and sound systems. At the top of the building stands a black box theater and education space, set against a two-story wall of original windows. Wood door surrounds in a neoclassical style were re-purposed to frame restroom doors. Even some remnant graffiti art from the building's darkest years was retained, in backstage areas.
A thoughtful pairing of historical elements and modern touches guarantees that the Strand will perform well into its second century.