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Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

February 3, 2011 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas has earned national recognition in the 2010 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), and members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a public ceremony at the theater on Monday, February 14, at 9:30 a.m. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievements in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects across the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S.

Project team members include owner AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas; architect of record Kendall/Heaton Associates, Houston; design architect REX/OMA, New York; structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates (AISC Member), Seattle; steel fabricator W&W Steel (AISC Member), Oklahoma City, Okla.; steel erector Bosworth Steel Erectors (AISC, TAUC, and SEAA Member), Dallas; general contractor McCarthy, Dallas; consultant KFC Engineering, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre is a National Winner in the category of projects costing $15 million to $75 million, making it one of only seven projects around the country to receive the National honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel, with an emphasis on creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design.

“Very creative structural solutions were used throughout the project,” commented Jack Petersen, P.E., principal, Martin/Martin, Inc., Lakewood, Colo., and a judge in the competition. “This is a great demonstration of what a steel frame can do that no other material could accomplish.”

The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre features an unprecedented vertical organization that completely rethinks the traditional approach to theater design. For centuries, traditional theaters have been horizontally oriented around the performance chamber with “front of house” and “back of house” areas flanking either side and a fly tower above.

The Wyly architecture team instead envisioned a transparent four-sided performance zone at ground level that would blur the lines between inside and out, actor and observer, in a literal interpretation of the world as a stage. To create this vision on a small site within a tight budget, the architectural and structural teams pulled apart each individual theater program element; carefully examined usage, size, and adjacency requirements; then reassembled the pieces into an intricate vertical structural stack with “back of house” becoming “above house,” and “front of house” (including the lobby) becoming “below house.” This vertical rearrangement produced the desired 27-ft-high, fully transparent, structure-free, four-sided, ground-level performance zone but demanded the invention of a one-of-a-kind structural steel system.

To create the most flexible performance space ever, the building itself had to be able to move, adapt, and evolve. Through the application of advanced technologies – both newly developed and borrowed from other industries – the Wyly Theatre is a marvel of moving steel parts driven by engineering innovation. The audience chamber moves up, down, in, and out to create an unlimited number of performance configurations such as: proscenium, thrust, arena, traverse, studio theater, flat floor, bipolar, and sandwich.

The 27-ft-high proscenium arch – unmovable in most theaters – retracts straight up into an enlarged “super fly” area. Three-tiered steel balcony units (the largest weighing 120 tons) also move up and down, adding 180 additional seats upon demand then “disappearing” when not needed. The balcony units lower and lift into the super fly area and can adjust horizontally up to six feet based on stage configuration, as well as carry their own drawbridge floor and access stair units. A combination of moveable seating wagons and nine moveable platforms rise, fall, and rotate to accommodate stage arrangement or produce a totally flat, open floor. The orchestra pit rises and retracts below the performance floor into the three-level below-house area. Even the walls move, with two 10-ft-wide floor-to-ceiling glass panels pivoting to the outside. The resulting “bridge machine” can be completely refigured and offers true performance freedom. No other venue in the world can host an open-to-the-outdoors, flat-floor event in the afternoon and then intimate stage performance only hours later.

A traditional structural system could not have met the project’s unique and complex program goals. The requirements were strict: no structure could be inserted in the 90-ft by 90-ft ground-floor performance area; no structure could interfere with the negotiated above-house program areas; and only a minimal amount of structure could interrupt the ground-level transparency zone.

The answer was a unique “global frame” consisting of six perimeter columns, four of which incline dramatically and asymmetrically to touch down in precisely predetermined locations. A three-story-high steel belt truss augmented by smaller interior steel trusses fill out the global frame, minimizing vertical height while supporting a puzzle-piece assemblage of rooms so complex and interlocking that only one floor at the top of the belt is contiguous.

The vertical positioning of the belt truss optimizes the strength of the one contiguous floor. The intricate positioning of the belt truss/sloped column intersects supports 44-ft corner cantilevers and 90-ft clear spans at ground level, preserving views and column-free performance areas. Opposing building forces are addressed using strategic inclines rather than traditional (and intrusive) vertical braced elements, with dual-duty columns resisting gravity and wind loads. This minimalist yet highly effective structural solution produces a ground-floor performance area that accomplishes the architect’s goal of blurring the lines between audience and stage.

The 12 IDEAS2 winners for 2010 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received by architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 awards are the highest project-based awards bestowed by the structural steel industry, with the annual program dating back more than 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E. president of AISC, said, “The entire Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and flexibility. The result is a performance space that serves its audience extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

High-resolution photos of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre are available upon request. Please contact Tasha O’Berski at 312.670.5439 or [email protected].

Wyly Theatre

Photo Credit: 2010 AISC IDEAS2 Awards: Theo Raijmakers


For more information contact:

Tasha O'Berski
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]


American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

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