The Putney School, a boarding school and working farm, invited us to build a performing arts center amid its hilltop collection of quaint clapboard houses and a red barn. How we arrived at a contemporary building with folded roofs, bold forms, vibrant interior colors and high marks for environmental sensitivity is a story about the importance of consensus-building. Adding considerable complexity to the project was the large group of trustees, faculty and students who all wanted a say in the building’s design and who had strong emotional ties to the campus.
Our design process was highly interactive with the Putney group; we frequently produced models and designs and didn’t move forward until we were unified in purpose. A key agreement early on was that the building should look to the future. Scale was a consideration, too: The large footprint required for performance and exhibition space could have easily dwarfed the surrounding buildings. With this in mind, we chose a site that preserved the campus’ open spaces and put the building snug against a wooded hill. As the design developed, we broke down the mass of the building to reduce the overall scale and impact. By introducing a series of folds in the roof, we created openings for natural light and a feeling of movement that expresses the activity within. Inside, bold colors heighten the experience of performance spaces; gallery walls can be moved to reconfigure exhibition space and views reconnect visitors to the landscape.