March 21, 2018

Raise the Barre

Founded in 1932, Jacob’s Pillow Dance in Becket, Massachusetts, is the oldest summer festival of its kind in the U.S. The 220-acre compound of 38 barnlike structures has furthermore been named a National Historic Landmark. What the site did not have, on the other hand, was a heated studio, suitable for year-round use, and an official home for the School at Jacob’s Pillow. Solving those problems and then some, Flansburgh Architects designed the Perles Family Studio primarily for rehearsals and workshops, but it can double as a performance venue, seating 200.

Operable clerestories ring the studio. Its ceiling peaks at 30 feet above the stained-maple sprung floor. Photography by Robert Benson.

While adhering to the prevailing vernacular, the studio is “very much of our time,” Flansburgh president David Croteau says. What traditional barn is designed with a crystalline cupola, wraparound clerestories, and two window walls? All that glass makes it possible for dancers to take in views of the Berkshire Hills and, equally important, for visitors to peer inside to see dancers practicing. Other than glass, the 7,400-square-foot structure is a wood construction: Western red cedar for the exterior, Douglas fir and pine for the interior walls and ceiling, and stained maple for the sprung floor. Beams and trusses support the lighting as well as the speaker system, which is all but invisible to attendees when seated. The seating solution, by the way, is clever yet low-tech. To supplement a balcony along one side, platforms that slide out of the balcony’s base can accommodate extra folding chairs, stowed in a closet when not needed.

The studio also houses Pillow Lab, a 12-month residency for choreographers. “It will extend year-round opportunities,” Croteau notes. Speaking of opportunities, the project was one for him personally: To draw on memories of his young daughters studying dance. 

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