ArtsQuest Center

Project Description

The ArtsQuest Center is part performance space, exhibition venue, art cinema, education center, and cultural landmark. Its 67,000 square feet envelops a venue for musical performances, a cinema, and several multifunctional performance and community venues. The building was inspired by the history and meaning of its site. Respectful yet unyielding, the ArtsQuest Center is oriented to view the adjacent industrial furnaces. The design fosters connection with the physical and emotional history of the site while moving forward with new energy.

Awards

Project Details

  • Client ArtsQuest
  • Location Bethlehem, PA View map
  • Use Mixed Use
  • Sq. ft. 67,167
  • Completed 2011

Steel Was Made Here, Culture Is Born Here

The Bethlehem Steel Corporation was one of the most iconic companies of the Industrial Revolution. At its height, Bethlehem Steel was the second-largest steel producer in the United States and one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world.

The company occupied nearly 2000 acres in the heart of Bethlehem (PA) and employed thousands of people over many generations. While the plant ceased operations in 1995, its majestic 285-foot blast furnaces still stand as civic markers among the…

The Bethlehem Steel Corporation was one of the most iconic companies of the Industrial Revolution. At its height, Bethlehem Steel was the second-largest steel producer in the United States and one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world.

The company occupied nearly 2000 acres in the heart of Bethlehem (PA) and employed thousands of people over many generations. While the plant ceased operations in 1995, its majestic 285-foot blast furnaces still stand as civic markers among the remaining industrial architecture found on the site. In recent years, the site has undergone a major revitalization effort which is transforming this once-abandoned area into a dynamic, sustainable, and livable mixed-use community. At the foot of the ruins lies the ArtsQuest Center. The 67,000 square-foot center is a hybrid building that houses flexible performance space, exhibition venues, art cinemas, educational space, food venues, retail, and community commons. The building plays a critical role in the creation of a vibrant public space in Bethlehem’s urban core, hosting more than 300 live performances annually. The ArtsQuest Center has become the cultural incubator of a region that is re-inventing itself for the post-industrial age. The architecture of the ArtsQuest Center is deeply influenced by the principles of critical regionalism and the history of its former industrial site. The project embraces material and craft over abstract concept, recognizing both the raw material and the human spirit that fueled the Industrial Revolution. The building takes cues from the site’s larger context, with authentic materials that speak to the history of the place, embracing an economy and function consistent with the industrial typology of the Bethlehem Steel. The building’s glass and concrete exterior is oriented along an east-west axis to stand toe-to- toe with the now-silent blast furnaces. The experience of the building is fully realized within the interior, where spaces bring visitors into intimate connection with the iconic blast furnaces, which stand proudly as a permanent and ever-present backdrop. The $16-million building is wrapped with locally-manufactured, pre-cast concrete panels mounted with their rough, hand-screed surface facing outward. The panels celebrate both the process of how they are made and the people that produced them by revealing the marks of their production. Their mottled color and uneven surface, reminiscent of the scale and texture of the steelmaking process, will become enhanced through the passage of the sun and seasons. The rough textural concrete panels contrast with the building’s exterior corners. These corners are functionally and elegantly articulated with inset steel, which protects the panel corners and recalls a prominent detail of the site’s industrial buildings. The primary building envelope serves not only as skin, but also as a load-bearing structural element. The mass of the panel system organized the parti, allowing for the highly public performance and gathering spaces to be acoustically isolated from the service core that houses the cinemas, kitchen, mechanical, and back-of-house spaces. Within this structural concrete strong box is a robust skeletal steel frame that completes the hybrid system and honors the site’s steelmaking history. The building skeleton is finished in International Orange, an iconic color borrowed from notable Bethlehem Steel structures, including the Golden Gate Bridge. To convey the powerful emotion and reverence of this industrial heritage, particular attention was paid to the human experience of moving through the space. Major thresholds are marked by shrouds, vernacular doorway forms found in many of the site’s industrial buildings. Visitors enter through the shroud and experience successively increasing ceiling heights until a soaring two-story volume is revealed. In this way, a visitor’s passage through the building becomes a journey of discovery enriched by spatial and tactile experiences. Programmatic elements are articulated as objects placed within the overall volumes of the factory-like spaces. These wood objects are clad in native Pennsylvania ash, stained dark on one side and left naturally light on the other. The overall effect of this surface treatment evokes the dark steel furnaces whose interiors are lined with light-colored firebrick. The natural ash warms the building’s interiors and heightens users’ experience of circulation. Much like the exterior, the interior wood details are woven, revealing the material’s thickness at the corners. The grand stair provides a heightened user experience similar to moving through the existing conveyance systems found throughout the plant. The stair starts as a plinth rising up from the earth and becomes progressively lighter, structurally and visually, at each turn. At the second level, the stair takes on a circular shape, a detail drawn from the steel stairs that circle the nearby blast furnaces. The design team worked to create a human-centered experience that allows visitors to interact with and connect to the rough, weathered physicality of the brownfield as both a vibrant historical place and a contemporary site for the community. The result is a building that honors its history and contributes to the unique and profoundly meaningful spirit of the region.

Award Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence 2017 (entire Steelstacks campus)

Project ArtsQuest Center

Read the article

Award ULI Global Award for Excellence 2014 (entire Steelstacks campus)

Project ArtsQuest Center

Award ULI Willard G. Rouse Award for Excellence 2014 (entire Steelstacks campus)

Project ArtsQuest Center

Award Architizer A+ Award Winner 2012

Project ArtsQuest Center

Award AIA Pennsylvania Silver Medal 2012

Project ArtsQuest Center

Read the article

Testimonial

Name Jeffrey Parks

Title Former CEO, ArtsQuest

Our experience with Spillman Farmer and the completed project proved that we made the right choice, although it took a long time to get there. [They] listened to our needs, studied and understood the site, and came forth with a design that is functional, attractive, and extremely appropriate for the site. The contemporary design has been universally hailed as being complementary, not competitive, with the historic Bethlehem Steel structures on the site, while showing off the primary product of the site, steel. Our experience with Spillman Farmer was that they were responsive to our needs, especially in the design phase; their ultimate design was second-to-none; and that their costs were significantly less than we had become accustomed to with “national” architects.

Related projects

City of Easton: City Hall & Intermodal Transportation Center

View project