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University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Proposes New Ways of Thinking About Auditoria

May 13, 2009

A studio at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) School of Architecture & Urban Planning produced an array of ideas and concepts to transform auditorium design and assembly space. Auditoria Redux, a two-semester program for students in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning, combined an intensive typological study of historical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about auditoria with innovation strategies.

“Our school has cultivated these unique relationships with an eye toward simultaneously expanding disciplinary boundaries and strengthening architectural expertise,” says Dean Robert Greenstreet, dean, UWM School of Architecture & Urban Planning.

The inspiration for the collaborative studio began with a basic question: Given the evolution of so many building types, why has the auditorium building and assembly space – which plays a central role at many universities – resisted change for the past century? 

“We challenged the students to discover the core of this typology and then to evolve it,” says Mike Tennity, vice president of design and development at KI (the organization that sponsored the studio).

The studio proposed designs that optimized the inherent performance qualities of auditoria space. Students presented the work to experts, such as architects, theater consultants, educators, and fabricators, for input and feedback.

Several teams of students addressed the high consumption of energy within auditoria by designing seats with built-in thermal heating and cooling systems, a solution often used in automobiles. Another proposal utilized stage traps and lifts to flexibly reconfigure and personalize seating arrangements and spatial formats. Students also wholly reclassified new materials for auditoria, challenging assumptions about the application of these materials. 

Auditoria Redux allowed us to examine how auditorium spaces can optimize newer technologies and determine why this hasn’t occurred with greater velocity,” says Grace La, associate professor and principal, La Dallman Architects, Milwaukee. “We were especially interested in looking at the role of research in the architecture design studio and ways to integrate the knowledge base of industry – in this case, KI's furniture and manufacturing expertise – to sharpen and test strategies for a more productive and focused design effort on assembly space.” 

La envisions Auditoria Redux serving as a model of design research and interdisciplinary collaboration that empowers designers to command vast bodies of knowledge, communicate with experts, and effectively apply research to real-world problems.

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