Los Angeles, CA
University of Southern California
Pfeiffer Partners Architects
USC Glorya Kaufman Dance Center Poised to Lead the Evolution of Dance
The Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC positions Los Angles to become an international leader in the dance world
“Dance is a force for joy in the world,” says Glorya Kaufman, echoing what dancers already know. Through her gift to the University of Southern California, dancers will be able to share that force for joy. With the Kaufman Dance Center, the University begins to lead a “New Movement” of dance and positions Los Angles to become an international leader in the dance world.
In partnership with Mrs. Kaufman, USC seeks to establish the school’s place in the dance firmament. The school offers a curriculum that combines conservatory-style dance instruction, evolving trends in the foundations of dance, and business training grounded in the liberal arts.
Making a statement on campus
The Glorya Kaufman School of Dance is the first school in nearly 40 years to be established at USC through an endowment. MATT Construction helped build a home for this vision and shape the space for this creativity to flourish. Pfeiffer Partners Architects designed the building with input from Mrs. Kaufman and the school’s director, deans, and faculty. It resides just across Jefferson from the soon-to-be-bustling USC Village, making it a key part of the university’s re-invigoration of the north side of campus.
The exterior masonry echoes the diamond-shaped “diaper” pattern used throughout the USC campus. However, the architectural elements, and investment in craft and materials, make it stand out among its peers. The 200K bricks on the façade were hand-laid in a random four-color blend by Design Masonry, who raked the joints to achieve this pattern.
Though the outside anchors the building firmly within the USC firmament, once inside there is no doubt one has entered a space meant to elevate the level of dance on the West coast. The interior communicates that here is a place where freedom and creativity reign.
Gothic windows provide a sense of light and air to the two-story entrance hall. A custom-designed chandelier composed of restored Art Deco fixtures, formerly of Ms. Kaufman’s own residence, crowns the space. The fixture sits in a cove surrounded by lights which “twirl” to project a multitude of colors, reflecting the dazzle of dancing. This jewel motif is carried throughout the Center. The six dance studios are designed with vibrant colors and named according to the gem they evoke: topaz, ruby, sapphire, etc.
An oblong spiral stairway, designed to celebrate movement, leads from the lobby to the mezzanine. The constantly changing radius of its path required significant design coordination in the field. For example, the curves of the stairway are so unique, the wood railing cap had to be milled out as the planks could not be bent to shape.
This flow and flux is reflected everywhere in the public spaces of the Center. A square corner is rarely found as the walls, ceilings, lighting coves and entrances recall a Gaudian sensibility in their approach to space. As all the hallways between the medium dance studios needed to be acoustically sound, these radii presented a challenge, especially at the studio entrances, which were designed with a 90-degree bend – if one scores drywall to accommodate this curve, one compromises the acoustics. Instead, the acoustical needs were met using pre-molded GFRG – Glass Fiber Reinforced Gypsum – to form the sound barrier.
Facilities at Glorya Kaufman School of Dance seek to entice the best
Though the lobby is a feat of design and construction, it is the studios that are the real showcase. In addition to the 20-25’ ceilings and Gothic windows, even the small and medium studios are larger than the spaces in which most dancers have the opportunity to work.
Indeed, the space revolves around the dance studios. As one approaches the large performance studio, wood paneling milled in a pattern that reminds one of sound waves leads to the entrance. Along the way, wooden ledges mimicking ballet barres line the hallway, so that dancers may stretch while in between studio sessions.
Inside the large studio, there is a 140-seat retractable seating system, a state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting system, and a floor-to-ceiling scrim. All the studios have a “box-in-box” construction so that they are acoustically sound: Atop the slab on base concrete lies another raised slab upon which the floor is constructed and the interior framing is connected. This leaves an air gap below and separation around the perimeter walls of the studio, so that vibrations from the floor within are not transferred to the hall and vice versa.
The basket weave substrate of the proprietary Harlequin floor lies atop the second slab, allowing the floor to flex and give, and be softer on dancers’ joints. Four studios are finished with a marley floor for ballet and contemporary study and two are finished in maple hardwood for hip hop and other forms of dance.
A contribution to culture
Under the banner of “The New Movement” curriculum, the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance seeks to innovate dance education for the 21st century, making hip-hop dance one of the cornerstones of the technique program and adding an emphasis on dance for camera, digital media and entrepreneurship to the curriculum. With the endowment of the school and this building, Mrs. Kaufman has given not only the space for Los Angeles to emerge as a leader in the international dance community, and an important contribution to the culture of our city, she has given much more. Dance is restorative to the mind, body and spirit, and she has made possible the building of an edifice which reminds us to tend to the joy in our lives.