By renovating the historic Warner Grand Theater, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will establish a dedicated performance center and a first-class patron experience. Built in 1930, the theater was originally designed as a decadent film palace, rather than a venue for live performances. Therefore, the complex renovation milestone required our team to move the theater’s terracotta rear wall to make room for a larger stage to accommodate the size of the orchestra and truly make this a fully functional acoustic hall.
Recently moved, the pinnacle monumental effort was documented and shared by local Milwaukee media and design industry communities. The below excerpt is from an article feature on Construction Equipment Guide. Read the full publication here and see below for links to additional coverage.
As part of the $90 million dollar project, MSO is overseeing the construction of an adjacent lobby and reception building. The lead architect on the project is Chris Ludwig, while Koby Scheel serves as project leader. Both are with the architecture firm Kahler Slater.
"The project vision was to protect the MSO for future decades by providing full schedule control and flexibility, to preserve a historic landmark theater and catalyze the renaissance of Westown/West Wisconsin Avenue," said Ludwig.
"The renovation needs to provide an outstanding performance space design for the MSO by accommodating varying performers and functions. With the ability to flex and adapt, the restored building will be an open and inviting space. Looking back, the original goal of the 1930 Grand Warner Theater was to create a facility that was for the common patron. The renovation had to carefully incorporate appropriate technology for the 21st-century Symphony Hall, which also includes building amenities that support the MSO and its users, while still respecting the building's history."
The wall move posed a challenge to the creative team, as it required a significant rework of existing infrastructure in the adjacent street, according to Scheel.
"It was the kingpin to many of the design decisions related to the theater expansion and adjacent additions. Finding the ‘sweet spot' for the final location was a delicate balance. The project needed enough space to function really well for the stage, back-of-house space and acoustic volume.
"On the flip side, the wall location also needed to maintain enough road and sidewalk to still work well as an artery in the city fabric," said Scheel. Once the location was identified, the collective design team could work back from that to find the best solution possible."
Ludwig said despite the changes planned, much of the aesthetics of the historic building and existing theater will remain intact.
"There are professionals repairing plaster and cleaning/retouching the existing murals and exotic wood veneers, the historic lights are being repaired, cleaned and rewired and lamped by a specialist to provide energy efficient LEDs and the finishes will be warm and respectful to the historic character and yet meet the strategic guidelines as set by the acoustician."
MSO will open its new performance space in fall 2020, allowing it to move out of its current home at the Marcus Center of the Performing Arts.
Additional coverage of the historic wall move: