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An Interview with Richard Pilbrow

What had you known of Philadelphia prior to this connection? What were your reactions both to the city and to the Kimmel Center project?

R.P.: I'd known Philadelphia and enjoyed it from working as a lighting designer in years past at the Shubert Theatre on pre-Broadway tours. When Bill Rouse introduced us to the project I was obviously impressed with his vision, supporting Mayor Rendell's concept of the Avenue of the Arts and the "re-birth" of downtown.

What was your specific input on the project?

R.P.: Theatre Projects as Theatre Design Consultants was responsible for the final space program of the whole Kimmel Center, working with the Philadelphia Orchestra and other potential users. We were then responsible for the concept design of the Perelman auditorium and stage, the concept design of Verizon Hall (with Artec Consultants) and advising on the overall planning of the building. The process of design of performing arts buildings is then a process of very close collaboration between architect, acoustician and theatre design consultant.

Specifically TPC were then responsible for the design of seating and sightlines, the design, specification and commissioning of all the performance equipment, stage engineering (elevators, wagons and revolve and suspension equipment) and stage lighting, and acoustic equipment engineering (including moving canopies, adjustable absorption devices, reverberation doors and control, etc.)

What were the major challenges of this project?

R.P.: Concert halls are of course primarily for symphonic music. However all halls are also used for a wide range of other events. TPC have specialized (in cooperation with the acoustician) in the design of such halls, where the stage has the flexibility to allow such other events (other forms of musical presentation, popular music and open-stage events, conferences, conventions, etc.) without any compromise to the central role of the hall. Furthermore even classical music is investigating the possibilities of more 'theatrical' styles of presentation and the Verizon Hall is equipped with sophisticated stage lighting and projection equipment.

The challenge of the Perelman Hall was a unique one. To create a superb hall for Chamber Music that could be changed very rapidly into a small theatre for dance and drama at minimum operating cost. This is intended both to optimize the utilization of the hall and minimize rental costs.

The TPC solution was to design a 620 seat, exceptionally intimate 'Courtyard Theatre' with the audience on three levels wrapping around a central flexible space. In 'Chamber Music' mode the stage end of the room is filled with an acoustic enclosure which also seats audience around the platform. This enclosure is on a large revolving stage. Behind it may be set the scenery for any theatrical event. To change from 'music' to 'theatre' the revolve is turned revealing the theatrical stage with a fully equipped fly-tower above. Finally to still further enhance the flexibility of the hall there is an orchestra pit or forestage; and the entire raked floor of the orchestra audience may be removed to provide a flat floor from the back of the auditorium to the rear of the stage. This 'flat-floor' will provide an environment for the most sophisticated experimental presentation of music, dance or theatre-arena, staging, thrust, multiple stage, promenade, etc.

The Perelman Theater holds the potential of being one of the nation's outstanding chamber music halls, an ideal small theatre and a unique environment for the exploration of new forms of staging music, drama and dance.

What was your relationship with Rafael Viñoly and Russell Johnson prior to this project?

R.P.: We've not previously worked with Rafael, but TPC has a very long relationship of collaboration with Artec and Russell Johnson. In fact I was pleased to be able to introduce Russ to his first-ever solo concert hall design project, the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, England (1982). This project allowed us to pioneer many of the flexible platform concepts employed in projects around the world, both by ourselves and Artec, and in the Kimmel Hall. We have collaborated on the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary Alberta, the Derngate Center in Northampton England, The Chan Center, University of British Columbia, The Esplanade, Singapore, and others worldwide. Presently in design with Artec are performing arts centers for Kansas City and Orlando.

Who are the key members of Theatre Projects' team, and what are your other current projects?

R.P.: Theatre Projects itself is a close-knit team. My partner David Taylor leads the Kimmel project, Carol Allen is senior designer, with Michael Nishball and George Ellerington, project engineers. TPC's other current concert halls include the Walt Disney Concert Hall with Frank Gehry in Los Angeles, the U.K's Gateshead Music Center with architect Sir Norman Foster, the Bethel NY Music Center with architect Richard Meier.