On the sprawling SUNY Purchase College campus, the new Center for Media, Film, and Theatre (CMFT) promotes an inclusive identity and mission of integration and collaboration for the institution while “opening up” the campus’s mid-century building vocabulary and remaining sensitive to the original campus plan. Opened for the fall 2019 semester, the 75,000-square-foot CMFT creates a centralized location for once-disparate conservatory and liberal arts programs, creating social gathering spaces for students, offering increased daylight to interior spaces, and providing visual relief to the uniform campus.
Based on the original campus plan created by noted American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes in the 1960s, the higher education campus consists of a cluster of buildings of a uniform purplish-brown brick organized around a central, formal mall on 500 acres of open fields and sprawling forests. The original intention for a building to house the theatre arts and film programs was never realized, resulting in the programs being spread out in a number of different buildings on campus. The new CMFT occupies a site adjacent to the Performing Arts Center along a central axis that respects the formal plan of the campus. The location of the CMFT defines a new campus gateway and a destination of arrival point that integrates the public and academic worlds at the college as a main entrance to the campus that welcomes an inclusive community.
Covering 75,000 square feet, the CMFT renovation/addition project consists of a concourse level, new entry pavilion and outdoor gathering space, and new three-story volume housing teaching, learning, and performance spaces. The campus is organized around a main plaza level, with street access and visitor parking located at the bottom of a hillside. The expansive new concourse level occupies previously underutilized space under the plaza to house new fabrication labs and exhibition spaces that support student creativity, production, and performance. The new entry pavilion and outdoor space provide better circulation and a more welcoming pedestrian experience for students and visitors. It connects the public arrival experience from nearby parking to the concourse and up through the plaza to the heart of the campus and the adjacent public-facing Performing Arts Center. A series of stepped seating/stairs traverse the campus’s grade change, provide legible, visible circulation between levels, and create an energetic human-scaled space for the campus community.
With punched windows and corrugated perforated metal cladding, the CMFT’s three-story volume on the plaza elevates and softens the rigid formality of the campus’s uniform buildings. The CMFT abuts the Performing Arts Center, transforming a previously exterior wall into a triple-height interior feature and highlighting the link between the new and existing architecture. The open lobby space welcomes student gathering and is visually linked to second- and third-floor learning and lab spaces, which are also connected by open stairways. Flexible double-height performance spaces including a sound stage, performance studio, and black box theatre are staggered across the CMFT’s four floors as natural light fills the Center and provides a transparency that increases visibility for the institution’s theatre, film, media, and related programs.
Steel was selected for the building’s structure to accommodate the long spans required by the performance spaces. A rain screen system featuring Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) and fiber cement panels forms the building enclosure. The panel pattern across the façade is punctuated by acoustic windows that provide daylight into each space while shielding occupants from noise by the nearby airport. Overlaid on the enclosure is a metal scrim composed of aluminum framing and perforated corrugated panels which serves to contrast the heavy dark brick that encloses the majority of buildings on campus. The interior public spaces are industrial in nature, featuring polished concrete floors, painted steel stairs with grating guardrails, and open mesh ceilings. The main black box theater features custom perforated wood panels that evoke the design of the façade.
Given strict acoustic requirements, all five of the performance spaces in the building feature box-in-box construction, including lift slab floating floors and isolated GWB partitions and ceilings. The main theater features a wire tension grid that the contractor sequenced to serve as a working platform for ceiling construction work before ultimately being turned over as part of the completed project.
FXCollaborative is a New York City-based architecture firm founded in 1978. The firm leverages broad expertise in architecture, interiors, and planning to enrich our world with responsible, intelligent, and beautiful design. The firm’s holistic approach integrates client aspirations, an urban sensibility, and a celebration of the craft of building. FXCollaborative’s work ranges from the scale of individual buildings and interiors—office towers, multi-family residences, cultural facilities, workplace, K-12 and higher-education institutions—to the city as a whole, addressing infrastructure and transportation.