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ISSUE 115 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/1/2002

World-class architect takes Guthrie Theater to new heights

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 1, 2002

After many months of debate over funding and location, the Guthrie Theater will soon have a new home on the Mississippi Riverfront in downtown Minneapolis. The new design, the brainchild of French architect Jean Nouvel, has the Minneapolis-area community talking because of its innovative design. Meet the architect As one of the leaders in the architectural world, Nouvels credits include LInstitute du Monde Arab in Paris, the Lyon Opera House, the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Galeries Lafayette in Berlin, and a concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland. He has also been the recipient of many of the most coveted architectural awards, including the 2000 Golden Lion and the 2001 Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Nouvel is the first to admit that the new theater is not a picture of beauty. Its no sweet flower, Nouvel said as he explained his new design to the media. Instead, the theater will be distinctive and sensitive to its river surroundings. John Cowles Jr., Guthrie board member and architectural search committee member is quick to come to Nouvels defense. We werent asking Nouvel to build a piece of sculpture. We hired him to be sensitive to the site. Making the plan In keeping with the search committees desire, Nouvel looked to the neighboring grain silos and abandoned industrial buildings for inspiration. What he came up with is essentially two large box shapes, a metallic silo, and a bridge. The boxes, one of which will house a 700-ft proscenium stage and the other a 200-seat theater, will be red stucco and yellow metallic siding, respectively, to add a splash of color to the now-dreary area. Many argue that the new plans are far less charming than the Guthries current Vineland Place location. They worry that construction materials are too harsh and industrial and are altogether too modern for the historic area. Hoping to prove this theory wrong and instead marry the dated riverfront buildings with his colorful new design, the architect said, Today as yesterday, history and modernity are friends, and the Guthrie, amidst mills and bridges, discovers its ambition to become a clear historic marker of the vitality and inventiveness of theatrical culture in Minneapolis in the year 2002. The design As soon as theatergoers enter the lobby the site of the Mississippi River will greet them. One will then take a 36-foot escalator to the fourth floor lobby, which plays host to a 140-foot long cantilevered bridge and walkway over the water. The bridge is destined to become the focal point of the building, and the architect has said he plans to open it to the public even during off-hours. The bridge will afford visitors views of the famous Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls, and the old grain mills. The new Guthrie will mean a consolidation of the theaters operations. Currently, the theater has ventures in five locations around the city, including the Guthrie Lab, the production shop, the costume warehouse and rental facility, prop storage, and the Theaters development office. The riverfront site will also have four classrooms for workshops and instruction, something the current Guthrie lacks. Nouvel has proposed building an area on top of an existing parking lot across from the new structure to house a set design shop. Sets would then be transported aboveground using a cable system. No final decision has been made yet, but vociferous opponents say that a set shop does not need to be housed in a section of such high real estate. New goals Project goals include expanding community outreach programs, and actor-training programs, improving audience amenities and public access, and developing an international touring program to increase the volume of presentations and productions. The 225,000 square-foot theater comes with the hefty price tag of $125 million. The Guthrie plans on raising $75 million through its own campaign, $57.1 million of which it has already accrued. Funds from the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Legislature are also going toward the new theater. The Guthrie plans to finance the remaining money in order to complete construction by 2005. Although the public complaints are not falling on deaf ears, Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling couldnt be happier with the new design and the prospect of taking the already thriving theater to new heights. Jean Nouvel has successfully conveyed the needs of a decidedly complex program and delivered to the people of Minnesota a design that will stand as one of the worlds great theater centers. When completed, the new Guthrie Theater will not only continue to attract the worlds greatest theater artists, but many thousands of visitors who will celebrate Minnesota as a cultural destination, Dowling said.

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