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UB architecture students win theatre renovation prize

Senior architecture students KelseyLiz Habla and Charles Canfield developed a proposal to adapt Buffalo’s Cyclorama Building into a year-round home for Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

By Lisa Gagnon

Published June 17, 2016

Historic preservationists face the challenge of updating a building for a 21 century purpose, while maintaining its historic and architectural integrity. So, what to do with a 130-year-old hexadecagonal building that has been used as an art gallery, library and roller skating rink? 

UB students KelseyLiz Habla and Charles Canfield have an award-winning proposal to turn Buffalo’s Cyclorama Building into a year-round home for the beloved theatre company Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

Held by the American Society of Theatre Consultants (ASTC) and United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), the Renovation Challenge is designed to engage undergraduate and graduate students in real world theatre renovation problem solving. After developing a scope of work for improvements of an existing venue, contestants present their work to a live audience and jury. Habla and Canfield presented at the USITT Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah in March and received the first prize $750 Honor Award.

Habla, a theatre minor, came across the competition while looking for internships last summer, and she and her senior studio partner Canfield decided to collaborate on the project outside of class. They teamed up with ASTC Theatre Consultant Steven Friedlander and UB Theatre professor and faculty advisor Jon Shimon. Canfield, who has worked with the Heritage Documentation Programs at the National Park Service, did much of the surveying and documenting of the Cyclorama building.

”This was the first time that I was able to manipulate an existing building,” says Canfield. “It’s something I have always been interested in but never had the opportunity to do in a studio setting. This project allowed me to both survey and document [the Cyclorama building], and work through design processes while lobbying to maintain its historic integrity.”

Buffalo’s 16-sided Cyclorama Building was originally built to house “cycloramas,” 360 degree paintings up to 50 feet high by 400 feet long. Photo by HABS

The Cyclorama Building, which originally contained no windows or interior walls, opened in 1888 as an exhibition space for ‘cycloramas,’ 360 degree panoramic paintings up to 50 feet high by 400 feet long. When cycloramas lost their popularity, the building spent time as a roller skating rink, livery and taxi garage. In 1937 it was condemned due to disrepair, but was later acquired by the Public Works Administration as an annex to the Grovsner Library Reading Room, where it hosted lectures, studying students, and library patrons. Since 1985 it has housed the offices of the Ciminelli Construction Company, and there are only 3 cyclorama buildings left in the country.

Habla and Canfield’s final design looks back even farther than 1888, to Shakespeare’s own Globe Theatre. The performance space includes a thrust stage and 400 seats, with the original structural column in the center becoming a backdrop. The 21 century additions include a tension wire grid system, a scene and costume shop, dressing rooms, classrooms, offices, and concessions. The lobby is maximized and a new staircase added, providing a grand entrance to the theatre and allowing appropriate access to all spaces in the building. This set-up would allow Shakespeare in Delaware Park, which has put on two outdoor productions every summer since 1976, the opportunity to house administration, educational outreach, and performances in one place.

ASTC Fellow Michael McMackin (right) presents the ASTC-USITT Renovation Challenge Honor Award to UB students KelseyLiz Habla and Charles Canfield, recognizing their proposed renovation of the Cyclorama Building. Photo courtesy of the American Society of Theatre Consultants

Currently, the Cyclorama Building is home to the accounting firm Lumsden & McCormick, who are in their fourth year of a 15 year lease. As a result, there are no plans to implement Habla and Canfield’s theatre design. Still, both students found the project enriching and beneficial to their professional ambitions.

Habla, who created and printed a 3D section of the building, enjoyed the collaboration and networking opportunities offered through the competition, and the chance to bring together two of her passions: preservation and theatre.

“As a theatre minor I have always been interested in being able to merge the industries of theatre and architecture,” she says. “With my background in historic preservation I was excited to take on this project that allowed me to design a theatre space within a structure with such rich history and spatial qualities. It was a very valuable experience to be able to collaborate with Mr. Friedlander to gain an understanding of theatre consulting as a profession.”

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