Trahan Architects

Trahan Architects

New Orleans, LA


​Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre Renovation Project Is the Perfect Blend of Art, Architecture, and Cutting-Edge, State-of-the-Art Technology

By trahanarchitects
May 3, '19 1:34 PM EST



When the Alliance Theatre set out to redesign its main performance space they had several items on their wish list.  The new space had to be acoustically perfect for spoken word and musicals, with state-of-the-art technology used in live theater.  The new space needed to provide an intimate seating chamber for audience members that removed all separation from audience and performers, as well as from other audience members, to create a truly shared experience.  It needed to have good interior flow (the orchestra and balcony levels were completely separated in the old Alliance main stage, which opened in 1968).  And it needed to be beautiful. 

The Alliance found everything it was looking for in the design from Trahan Architects, led by founder Victor F. “Trey” Trahan and partner Leigh Breslau, including the touch of an artist.  The interior of the Alliance Theatre chamber will be wrapped with beautiful, steam-bent oak, in the style of celebrated furniture and design artist Matthias Pliessnig.  Pliessnig’s pieces can be seen in permanent collections at the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., and the James A. Michener Art Museum. 

Pliessnig worked closely with Trahan to design the woodwork in the Alliance’s new space.  The complexity and scale of Pliessnig’s designs quickly necessitated the investigation of 3D projection and modeling for creation and installation, which until now had only been used to calibrate manufacturing processes.  Two companies stood out that could deliver this kind of work – CW Keller + Associates, expert fabricators for creating all the steam-bent wood elements for the space, and FARO, who uses industry-leading projector and scan data technology for precision installation.  While this technology has been used in aerospace for years, the integration of the projector with scan data (as FARO has done, relevant for build and site install) was not available until very recently.  

The walls and ceiling of the chamber and lobby are lined in solid stock wood. Each 1/2” x 1/2” rift sawn oak strand is sourced from fallen trees. This system creates very little waste and beckons patrons to engage directly with each element in a physical way.  Over time the wood will patina and age by dynamic use and human touch. Finished in hand rubbed dye and fire proof finishing, the surfaces of the project are works of art in and of themselves. By achieving a high level of precision, this modeling interface enables the true artistry and craft of each element to translate into the final installation.

Not only is the bent wood beautiful, it produces acoustically tuned forms that amplify the artistry performed on the stage.  Architect, Acoustician and Artist combine precise digital modeling with the craftsmanship of steam bending oak.  Deep exploration into steam bending techniques produced balcony and side terraces which perform acoustically, with whisper-sensitive precision, and ergonomically.  The final material system is a marriage of contemporary digital technology and time tested hand craft. 

Tommy Holder, Chairman and CEO of Holder Construction Company whose recent projects include the award-winning Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, is a board member of the Alliance Theatre’s parent company, The Woodruff Arts Center.  Holder recently traveled to see the wood work being developed at CW Keller + Associates and said of the work, “I’ve spent many years in the construction industry, and the wood work that is being designed and developed for the Alliance Theatre’s Coca-Cola Stage is incredibly ambitious, truly unique, and an extraordinary feat of both craftsmanship and engineering.  Its beauty and utility sets the Alliance Theatre apart from every other performance space in the world.  The technology to build and install something like this simply didn’t exist before now.”

Completing the Alliance’s wish list, Trahan delivered a design that reduced the size of the orchestra pit and moved the audience as much as 15 feet closer to the stage.  This, combined with reducing seat count from 770 to 650 and curving the seating bowl and balcony, has created a more intimate room where audience members can better connect with the actors and each other.  Two interior staircases provide access to the balcony level from inside the theater, and interior ramps allow ADA seating at three levels of the theatre – lower orchestra, orchestra, and balcony. 

Outside of the Coca-Cola Stage, the Alliance renovation also includes additional artist support spaces, including two new rehearsal halls, new dressing rooms and green room spaces, and a new costume shop. 

“As a result of this transformation, the Alliance is going to be able to offer our patrons, our artists, and the city of Atlanta with an iconic and defining space in which to experience and make theater,” said Susan V. Booth, Jennings Hertz Artistic Director.  “Our patrons have become accustomed to transformative theater on our stage, and now through the exceptional quality of this design, our architecture will match and enhance that artistry.”

The $32 million transformation of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre is a masterclass in design and prefabrication collaboration