News Column

Review board gives initial OK for arts center

May 15, 2014

By Eric Curl, Savannah Morning News, Ga.



May 15--Naked people and backsides.

The discussion took some interesting turns leading up to the Savannah Historic District Board of Review's initial approval on Wednesday of the city's planned cultural arts center design.

In addition to the two-foot thick walls and 12-inch-thick roof around the auditorium to prevent sound leaking in from the surrounding traffic on Oglethorpe Avenue, Montgomery Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; the lower translucent windows along the MLK also serve to prevent people from being able to see into the dressing rooms, said Architect Patrick Shay.

Board staff had recommended the windows be transparent to make them more "active" for the people passing by, although giving performers more exposure than they bargained for was clearly not their intention.

"We feel you'll be able to see people inside, you just won't be able to see people walking around naked," Shay said.

The recommendation from staff was among others made by board members before the plan was allowed to move forward to the next phase of the review process, which will scrutinize the design details of the building.

As part of the approval motion, board members had requested that Shay consider increasing the height of the spire that extends above the building's rotunda, while recently appointed member Justin Gunther suggested Shay take another look at placing building frontage along Oglethorpe and MLK, where a park is currently planned, to provide "walls of continuity."

Gunther also expressed concerns about the aesthetics of the center's Turner Boulevard side, where equipment trucks will be unloading.

Shay said they plan to add features to keep the boulevard's appearance attractive.

"I have to be careful how I say this," he said. "We think a back side can be beautiful and we are working on that."

Noting that the Civic Center across Montgomery is eventually expected to come down, board member Robin Williams said he would like the reopening of Oglethorpe Lane to be considered as a way to begin the restoration of the historic grid pattern in the area.

A representative from the Historic Savannah Foundation also had some concerns about the "big box" shape of the auditorium and suggested adding features to "punctuate" the facade.

Shay said they intend to use slatted wood, glass and living green screens to "activate" the building.

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Source: Savannah Morning News (GA)