Designing a School Theater

The Problem

Theaters are an important part of the high school experience.  Theaters allow students to perform music and theatrical productions, and they provide a space where the whole school can come together for meetings and conferences.  The trouble is that my high school does not have a theater.  Built in 2014, the beautiful campus of the Nueva High School includes amenities such as a research center and a design lab, but there is no theater.  Most meetings, events, and performances are held in the gymnasium.  This is inconvenient because performances often require extensive stage setups which block students from using the gym for its intended recreational purposes.  Furthermore, the gymnasium is not ideal for putting on plays, because there are no spotlights set up or wings for actors to retreat into.  Student groups at my school have held conferences such as TEDx and the Feminism Conference, but these conferences often have to take place on a different campus because the high school has no appropriate space for conferences with speakers.  Building a theater at my school would provide a space for theatrical performances, all-school meetings, and conferences.

The Site

This grassy amphitheater on the school campus is rarely used, so it would be the perfect spot to build a theater.  The building shown in Figure 1.1 is where the school entrance, gym, and administrative offices are housed.  The theater will connect with the Western wall of this building (the wall shown in the picture) so that occupants can move from the school to the theater without going outside.  Figure 1.2 depicts the view of the available land from the existing school building.  Figure 2 shows an aerial view of the school, with a red box outlining where the theater will go.  As the contour plot in Figure 2 shows, the ground provides a very flat surface for construction.  The available area for construction is approximately 110 feet by 90 feet.


                  Figure 1.1                                                             Figure 1.2

                                          Figure 2

Interview / User Needs

I interviewed a few theater students and teachers who would be using this space.  I learned that performers wanted separate changing rooms backstage for boys and girls, preferably with space for mirrors and lights so performers can do their makeup.  They also wanted lots of storage space backstage, and large wings that allow performers to get from one side of the backstage to the other side.  The users wanted the theater to have a good audio system and tech booth and possibly even an orchestra pit.  They also thought about audience convenience, and said it would be good to have a lobby at the entrance to the theater where tickets or snacks could be sold.


My inspiration for the design of this theater came from visiting other theaters as well as looking at the design of my school.  Since this theater will be adjoined to the school building, it should be designed in a way that complements the design of the rest of the school.  The outer walls will be a very light gray/brown concrete like the walls of the current school shown in Figure 3.  There will be larger windows on the North and South sides of the building to let natural light in through the walls to the left and right of the stage, but these windows can be covered with the press of a button if a performing group wants total darkness for their performance.  The walls on the inside of the theater will be paneled with wood in an effort to match the interior styling of my school.  For a further look at the interior of the current school, watch this time-lapse video (source: Kathryn Swint).

                                                Figure 3  

Sketches and Prototypes

Figure 4 shows a bubble diagram of the theater.  This diagram illustrates all of the necessary spaces in the theater and how they interact with each other, without paying too much attention to their actual shape.  My diagram includes all of the necessary spaces in the structure such as a lobby, restrooms, a seating area, a stage, and a backstage area.  After sketching out the diagram, I was ready to make a model of the theater.  Figures 5.1 and 5.2 are pictures of a cardboard model of my theater, excluding the lobby and restroom area.  Finally, Figures 6.1 and 6.2 show my SketchUp model of the theater.  This model includes plenty of space backstage, as requested in the user interviews.  There is also a lobby, two restrooms, and a large audience seating area.  The whole structure is 9900 square feet, and the height is 35.5 feet to match the height of the existing school building.  The lobby area is on the East side of the theater, connecting with the school building, and the stage and backstage are on the West side of the theater.

                               Figure 4


                               Figure 5.1                                                                           Figure 5.2


                               Figure 6.1                                                                                   Figure 6.2

This model includes several architectural elements and features that I have studied in my Architecture class.  The seating space is made up of horizontal planes in increasing elevation, which allows audience members to view the stage no matter where they are seated.  The theater’s clear focal point is the stage, and all of the seats are angled to face this stage.  The theater is also very symmetrical (with the exception of the lobby and bathrooms) to draw attention to the axis of symmetry, which is the center of the stage.

Continuing Research

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