Disaster can be turned to advantage and the CSU campus in Northridge, devastated by the 1994 earthquake, has been rebuilt and has gained a facility—the Valley Performing Arts Center—that will benefit students and the population at large. Ten years in the making, it was driven to completion by CSU President Jolene Koester, who shared the vision that inspired Dale Franzen to collaborate with the Santa Monica Community College in the creation of the Broad Theater. VPAC is a much larger complex, comprising a 1700-seat multi-purpose auditorium, a 180-seat black box, classrooms, support spaces, and a studio for the KCSN public radio station. It was designed by HGA Architects of Minneapolis, a specialist in this field, and lead architect Kara Hill saw it through to completion before leaving to establish her own firm.
In contrast to the impassive container of Antoine Predock’s Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, the VPAC is transparent, opening up through walls of glass to a courtyard that doubles as a performance space and to a reflecting pool that reveals the bustle of the multi-level lobby. A canopy of perforated aluminum louvers shades the facades. Landscaping by Pamela Burton & Company integrates the soaring block with its neighbors, and the sculptural shapes of their plantings enhance the glass curtain walls and a solid wall clad in multi-tone quartz tile. They have used earth that was excavated for construction to create a hilly grove of redwoods and sycamores.
The vertiginous lobby has a ceiling of layered panels that conceal strip lighting and a gracefully curved staircase that is cantilevered from the rear wall of the auditorium. The performance space is, appropriately, the star of the show. The challenge was to create a hall that would work equally well for orchestral music, theater and dance, while serving as a rental facility for movie premieres with multiple speakers. Hill worked with acousticians and engineers to create an interior that has the elegance of a cello and the versatility that every user demands. Ribbons of a dense composite board, veneered in anigre wood, rim three upper seating levels and echo the curved baffles that extend across the ceiling. These warm, resonant surfaces conceal expanses of stainless steel mesh and fabric curtains that dampen sound. The sightlines are excellent, particularly in the upper gallery, and the seats wrap around in a horseshoe to embrace the open stage. VPAC is a worthy complement to Disney Hall and the Broad Theater as a space that delights the eye and the ear, while serving performers and audience in equal measure.