Copper screen stretches across front of Memphis ballet school by Archimania

Jenna McKnight

A metal brise-soleil and a sculptural rooftop block allow a new performing arts centre by Tennessee studio Archimania to stand out in a revitalised district in Midtown Memphis.

The project, called Ballet Memphis, is situated on a corner site in Overton Square – a neighbourhood that has been rejuvenated in recent years. The building was envisioned for a ballet company that had outgrown its old home in a suburban location and wished to relocate to a more urban setting.

Encompassing 44,270 square feet (4,113 square metres), the arts centre accommodates a professional dance company, a dance school for over 200 children, and classes for the community.

The facility is designed to embody the company's focus on uplifting the community through "transparency, connectivity and education". Its design also takes cues from the "character of a music box", said local studio Archimania.

The site formerly contained a hotel fronted by parking spaces. The architects inverted the original scheme, placing the new building against the street, with car parking in the rear.

Rectilinear in plan, the building is topped with a sculptural, metal-clad volume that rises high above the roof. Another distinctive feature is a perforated copper screen that wraps the front facade.

The screen was placed several feet away from the building envelope, forming open-air passageways where people can circulate.

"The copper screen sits at the historic street edge – enhancing the urban experience within an entertainment district – while complying with current city codes and setbacks," the team said.

Portions of the brise-soleil are cut away to reveal large stretches of glass, which provide views into dance studios. The cutouts also reveal pocket courtyards.

"The courtyard spaces offer opportunities for the community to engage with the school, and also break the scale of the large building down to suit the context," the team said.

Inside, a central double-height corridor runs the length of the ground floor, from the main entrance on the west to a loading dock on the east. A long clerestory brings soft natural light down into the building.

A series of dance studios and dressing rooms line the central spine, with the largest studio doubling as a performance venue. The ground floor also contains an oval-shaped cafe and a costume shop. White walls are paired with polished concrete flooring and colourful furniture.

The mezzanine level houses offices, meeting rooms, storage areas and a break room. Wooden slats were used to form a stairwell and to line the walls and railings that enclose the upper level.

Other projects by Archimania in Memphis include the transformation of a warehouse into a teacher training centre, and the design of a tall family home clad in weathering steel and charred wood.

Photography is by Hank Mardukas Photography.

Project credits:

Structural and civil engineering: SSR

Mechanical engineering: Innovative Engineering Services

Electrical engineering: DePouw Engineering

Theatre planner: Schuler Shook

Acoustical designer: Talaske

General contractor: Grinder, Taber & Grinder

Kristi Slipher