Jeanne Gang’s Writers Theatre uses new technologies to create a welcoming space that, while large, remains intimate
The sudden death of London architect Zaha Hadid on March 31 not only drew attention to an extraordinary talent extinguished in its prime but heightened awareness of other powerful and gifted female architects now on the scene. Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang is one of them, and her most recently completed project, the Writers Theatre here, is a choice example of how exceptional ability may be informed but is never defined by gender.
Founded in 1992 by artistic director Michael Halberstam, the Writers Theatre presented its first decade of productions in the front section of a bookstore. Then, in 2003, it joined forces with the Women’s Library Club of Glencoe and moved to the club’s Georgian-style building, which was demolished to make way for the new structure. The Women’s Club is still a partner and now holds its meetings in a glamorous executive suite with roof terrace and fire pit.
Glencoe is a residential enclave chock-a-block with half-timbered faux-Tudor homes. Ms. Gang directed her research to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, inspiring both her choice of materials and a clever way to encourage residents to use the lobby in new ways.
The new building is held up by an advanced engineered wood, with the facades filled out with plastered walls: a Tech-Tudoresque look that imparts a warm textured character to the rather large complex. To further diminish its considerable total mass of 36,000 square feet, the architect broke the building down into interconnected pavilions containing the main 250-seat thrust-stage venue, a 99-seat black-box theater, a rehearsal space providing the same floor area as the main stage, as well as generous back-of-house dressing and prop rooms, the executive suite and a lobby open to the public throughout the day. […]