2 Feb 2012

The Wolfe Center: An Architectural Artwork

Author: mpicket | Filed under: BGSU, Wolfe Center

By Mariah Pickett

When the idea of the Wolfe Center for the Arts was first conceived, the goal was to unite the various disciplines in the arts. While the functionality of the building was of primary concern, BGSU’s Chair of the Department of Theatre and Film Ron Shields said there was another goal in mind. “BGSU wanted a building that works and stands as a work of art in itself,” he said.

Ron Shields speaks in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre. Photo by Mariah Pickett.

The Wolfe Center opened to the public in December after a construction period of well over two years. The building is the new home for Bowling Green State University’s theatre and film program as well as programs for dance, music, digital art and graphic design.  The equipment available to the students in the building is top-notch. Jen Sobolewski, a BGSU spokesperson, said that graduates would not be able to find better technology than what is provided at the Wolfe Center, and this “gives grads a leg up.” Sobolewski also noted that it was the Wolfes’ wish for the building to be a multidisciplinary home base for the arts. The Wolfes are the primary private donors to the building.

To ensure that the building would be functional and inventive, Director of the Department of the School of Art Katerina Ruedi Ray said it was vital for BGSU to find the right fit for the project architecturally. To select the architecture firm to design the building, BGSU sent out a call for qualifications and subsequently received over 190 entries. Ruedi Ray said that out of all of those entries, Norwegian architecture firm SnØhetta presented the strongest proposal. She said that the University was focused not only on skill in design but on the ability to be flexible.

“Being an architect, I know that there are quite a few architects out there who are primadonnas, and they like to control everything in the process,” Ruedi Ray said. SnØhetta provided a plan that allowed for the most open-ended process out of the 190 applicants. They were willing to collaborate with all of the members involved in the project’s process, and this was essential to the Wolfe Center project.

The Donnell Theater seats up to 400 people. Photo by Mariah Pickett.

SnØhetta focused the design of the Wolfe Center around the building’s theme: collaboration. Nearly every detail in the building revolved around relationships. Ruedi Ray said that the position of the building was intentional, to draw the viewer’s eye from the Musical Arts Building to the Fine Arts Building, visually connecting all three buildings. A heavy focus was placed on creating “an arts neighborhood.” Further underlining this is the hallway within the building referred to as0 “The Highway” said Ron Shields. This hallway connects all three of the arts buildings.

Another feature of the building, though not necessarily unique, said Ruedi Ray, is the way it communicates with its landscape. The landscape on the east of the building slopes upward to meet the back of the building, blurring the viewer’s perception of ground and building.

Possibly the most important feature of the Wolfe Center is the way it interacts with natural light. Ruedi Ray said that throughout the Wolfe Center, there is a “careful and economic manipulation of light,” and describes the use of the skylights throughout the building as “judicious.”  The Wolfe Center’s design allows it to use a maximum amount of natural light so that it doesn’t need to rely on artificial light. It creates a natural feel to the building and its internal environment.

Ruedi Ray says that this manipulation of light is still what most impresses her about the building. “There is a dignity and a kind of grace to it and a calmness that I personally really appreciate, and the manipulation of the light has something to do with that,” Ruedi Ray said.

The Wolfe Center's grand staircase can also be used as a stage. Photo by Mariah Pickett.

The way SnØhetta designed the Wolfe Center to operate with and manipulate natural light is one of the factors that skyrocketed the building to architectural fame. The Wolfe Center was recognized as the second most important performing arts building design in 2010 by the architectural magazine Architype.

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