The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a next-generation performance venue that reflects Chicago Shakespeare’s multi-faceted artistic vision. The project features a new flexible theater and glazed two-story lobby and reception space, with magnificent views of Lake Michigan, that connects to the existing theater at Navy Pier. Consisting of 33,000 sf of space, the project introduces a global trend in theater architecture that focuses on resourceful, sustainable, and adaptive design. The new theater is artfully tucked beneath the existing signature white tent and above the existing parking garage. The new theater shares existing stage house and backstage support spaces.
To mitigate glare and heat, the lobby façade uses electrochromic glass. Designed with daylight sensors on the roof, the façade gradually tints when sunlight passes across its southern face. This unique solution, is highly sustainable and will reduce heat gain and cooling needs. The geometry of the faceted curve creates dynamic reflections, inviting passersby to interact with the façade, heightening the theatrical experience. The “theatrical” nature of the façade is akin to the raising of the curtain, as it will be primarily tinted throughout the day becoming clearer in the evenings as the sun sets and the performances begin.
Another innovation is the theater’s flexible egress system that allows seating towers to be configured into nine different arrangements, adjusting the range of seating capacity from 250 to over 850 seats. The mobility of the seating towers is achieved through the incorporation of air casters at the base of each structure.
Sustainability was paramount to the design of the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Electrochromic glass was used as a light sensitive material that adjusts a windows’ level of opacity depending upon the level of sunlight, much like transition lenses used in eyeglasses. Sensors on the roof signal the glass to tint according to the positioning and intensity of the solar radiation throughout the day and over yearly seasonal variations. By using this type of glass, the theater will have 11% total energy reduction, a 44% cooling demand reduction, and 21% operating cost reduction.
The glass turns to four different tint settings 60%, 18%, 6%, 1% visible light transmission, with each panel having an override for individual control. When the glass is turned on, the exterior darkens and increases in reflectivity. The facade permits the maximization of daylight in the lobby and preserves the outdoor view, so the benefits are multifold. A critical factor, however mundane, was that the installation and maintenance costs of interior shades and blinds was eliminated. Also, traditional low-e glass would require a larger HVAC system first cost as well as increase energy usage, lighting and cooling costs and peak-demand charges. However, with electrochromic glass the thermal heat gain is reduced significantly, thereby reducing the cooling loads, particularly in the summer months.
The electrochromic glass reduces heat gain and cooling needs for the entire building – not just the front lobby space where it is featured. With the inclusion of the façade, the Yard has annual predicted CO emissions of 23,436 kgCOeq, a reduction of 24% compared to the baseline (5,530 kgCO2eq emissions saved per year).
- Walls: 0.028 Btu/h ft2 F
- Roof: 0.037 Btu/h ft2 F
- Floor: 0.019 Btu/h ft2 F
- Glass: 0.262 Btu/h ft2 F
Iterative designs and value engineering efforts led to the elegant, curved-glass curtain wall. Not only is the curve an optimal solution from a budget standpoint, the geometry frames views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago cityscape, while extending the exterior space into the interior lobby. To combat against the intense southern exposure of the curtain wall, electrochromic glass was chosen to reduce the lifecycle operational costs of the project. This technologically unique solution is highly sustainable, reducing heat gain and cooling needs for the entire building. With the inclusion of the façade, the Yard has annual predicted CO emissions of 23,436 kgCOeq, a reduction of 24% compared to the baseline (5,530 kgCO2eq emissions saved per year). Further savings were reached because the installation and maintenance costs of interior shades and blinds were eliminated.
- Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr excluding on-site renewable energy contribution: 36
- Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr including on-site renewable energy contribution (carbon offsets will not be counted): 36
- Predicted % regional energy reduction per Energy Star Target Finder: 62
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a next-generation project that is an integral step for Chicago’s Navy Pier Centennial Vision, a reimagining of the Midwest’s most visited leisure destination. The project introduces a new theater and entrance lobby to the existing theater by artfully tucking the addition beneath the existing tensile tent structure and above the existing parking garage.
The new theater is fully enclosed beneath the existing, iconic white tent, which previously housed a seasonal, underutilized outdoor venue, known as the Skyline Stage. By working with the existing architectural design, building costs were dramatically reduced, bringing the total cost to $35 million—less than half of the projected estimates for new construction. There are also plans for the white tent to prove additionally valuable as a projection and lighting design backdrop that will animate the exterior shell in future productions.
The façade’s reflectivity during the day, and transparency at night, creates a visceral excitement and boasts a strong ability to attract people the way inventive architecture can. The theatrical nature of the façade is also akin to the raising of the curtain, as it will be primarily tinted throughout the day becoming clearer in the evenings as the sun sets and the performances begin.
The innovative, flexible theater seeks to include the community in each performance. With seating towers that can be orientated into 9 different configurations, the audience capacities can range from 150 to 850. Therefore, the theater design can be tailored to the purpose, size, and type of audience. Industrial technologies were repurposed to allow the seating towers to function accurately and smoothly. At the base of each tower, air casters carry the burden of the lifting capacity, giving greater steering control than more typical applications, such as swivel casters. Several days are needed to reconfigure the layout because of the multiple components involved, and while the speed of changeover was a concern, achieving configurations that felt permanent was more important. Between productions, compressed air-skid technology, commonly used in industrial and aeronautical settings, lifts each of the 35,000-pound towers 3/8” off the ground on a bed of air, allowing them to be moved by a three-person team. The structures also house the theatrical technology that connects into a network of HVAC components and sprinkler systems for maximum audience comfort and safety. Additional modular main-floor seating risers and custom-built stage decking complete each configuration. Although the Chicago Building Code required special review and testing for the seating tower design, the team was able to secure the approvals with close coordination with the City of Chicago Department of Buildings.
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater has a walkscore of 80 as it is close to shopping and other amenities, as well as multiple public transportation options.
When planning the expansion, Chicago Shakespeare leadership took both an economically and environmentally sustainable approach by deciding to repurpose elements of the underutilized former Skyline Stage on Navy Pier, transforming it into a fully enclosed, indoor theater. More than 200 architects, engineers and designers, and 400 construction workers contributed to the complex build, which incorporated 2,500 tons of concrete, 375 tons of steel and 15 miles of electrical conduit. Eighteen 95-foot-long micropiles were driven into the lake’s bedrock below Navy Pier to support the additional weight of the new structure. The fully enclosed, year-round theater chamber was constructed below the iconic white tent with exacting engineering specifications, resulting in less than 6 inches of clearance at the narrowest point between the steel beams and tent canopy. The existing stage house and backstage support areas of the former Skyline Stage were all refurbished for reuse. The decision to employ adaptive reuse in the architectural design reduced building costs dramatically, bringing the total cost to $35 million—far less than half of the projected estimates for entirely new construction.