Newark, NJ has a new symbol. A fabulous new performing arts center that symbolizes not only a strong commitment to the arts but also a revitalized future for a desolate urban area in New Jersey's largest city. A decade in the making, the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts (NJPAC) opened on October 18, 1997 with great fanfare and hope that this $180 million complex can breathe new life into downtown Newark.
Designed by award-winning architect Barton Myers, the building combines sweeping glass panels with the red brick of Newark's industrial history. Located within walking distance of Newark's railroad station (serviced by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and PATH trains), NJPAC contains the 2,750-seat Prudential Hall, the 51-4-seat Victoria Theatre, a 3,000-sq.-ft. rehearsal/banquet room, administrative offices, a restaurant, and a public plaza. "The idea is to pump new life into the city," says the LA-based Myers, one of America's leading theatre architects. Like his Cerritos Center, which opened a few years ago in Southern California, NJPAC juxtaposes a variety of different building materials into a warm environment. Glass and brick are accented with a steel canopy, stainless steel and copper trim, mosaic file, and terrazzo floors.
"One really feels that the building is inviting and accessible," says Myers. "There is a sense of excitement and celebration, yet the building feels like it belongs in Newark." Myers designed the structure in keeping with the size of neighboring buildings. "Newark has a nice scale as a 350-year-old city with public spaces and commons built into its urban fabric," he says. "It also missed the era of mega-structures like other cities. Newark is a brick city and our budget allowed for brick, which echoes the industrial-base of the city.
Covering 250,000 sq. ft., NJPAC sits on a 12-acre site that links Newark's historic Military Park with the city's downtown office buildings and the shores of the Passaic River. Future plans call for the addition of a concert hall as well as limited commercial development on the site. A combination of shapes embraces the soaring height of the stage house, a glass-fronted rehearsal room, and a four-story entrance rotunda with a tensile roof designed by Ove Arup and Partners, the center's project engineers. The structure is graced with a brick courtyard in front and a battery of colorful flags fluttering in the breeze. Inside, generous lobby areas can be closed off so that either theatre can be used on its own. Under the leadership of it president, Lawrence P. Goldman, NJPAC has developed a diverse performance menu, including an educational enrichment program for local students, putting the theatres to almost continual use.
The dream for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was born in the late 1980s. A planning team led by former governor Thomas H. Kean commissioned the consulting firm of Shaver & Company to do a feasibility …