The Kogod Cradle is the experimental theater at Arena Stage. Rather than designing a typical neutral “black box” theater, the design team wanted to develop a space that had its own personality in the same way that the existing historic theaters in the complex have a distinct character. Essentially the idea behind the theater was to be experimental in shape to reflect the nature of the work being performed inside. It is the antithesis of the neutral black box theater.
An oval, womb-like shaped room was conceived. An oval shape, however, is notoriously bad for acoustics because the concave walls focus sound at different places making it difficult for the actors to perform and the audience to hear. We realized we could solve this problem by designing an acoustically permeable wall that was also visually enveloping. We came up with the idea of a woven wood pattern, like a basket. Working with a boat maker, we built a full scale mock-up, personally steaming and weaving the wood in the parking lot at our offices so we could successfully test it there.
Beside the acoustical challenges, the Cradle presented another issue – people going to the theater would be moving into an intimate 200-seat space from a large lobby with a capacity of more than 1,400 people, so we felt we had to ease the transition to avoid a feeling of abruptness. We also needed to create a sound and light lock between the lobby and the interior of the Cradle.
Inspired by Richard Serra’s beautiful elliptical steel sculptures, we proposed bringing the audience in through a narrow spiral entry to the theater. The Cradle’s dynamic outer spiral form wraps a long causeway/catwalk that prepares the audience for the excitement of the performance within the theatre. This is a promenade of incremental drama and suspense that works up the appetite for curiosity and exploration.