Flansburgh Architects Puts a Contemporary Spin on a New Dance Studio in the Berkshires
In August, Jacob’s Pillow Dance in Western Massachusetts unveiled the Perles Family Studio, the new $5.5 million addition to the National Historic Landmark dance center, and the first winterized structure on a campus of romantic but uninsulated wooden buildings. Drawn up by Boston-based Flansburgh Architects, the new 7,373-square-foot studio addresses a very necessary workaday concern at Jacob’s Pillow: a dearth of practice space.
Before diving into the design process, the architectural team lived at Jacob’s Pillow for a week. They wanted to have a feel for the place—both as a campus and as a leafy, mountaintop sanctuary—and for the lives of the dancers. The Perles Family Studio is notable for its practicality, restraint, and respect for its setting. For a substantial building—its basic form is that of a vernacular gabled barn—the studio seems light on its feet. Sliding barn doors on two sides of the building welcome light onto the fifty-by-seventy-foot sprung maple floor, while the ground-floor and clerestory ribbon windows frame views of the forest and the campus. The Douglas fir studs of the forest-side wall echo the vertical strokes of the trees, and a heavy, slanting strut diverges from the eaves and follows the downward slope of the site, making the building—jutting from the mountainside—seem less obtrusive. The studio’s untreated cedar exterior will weather to match the grey of the nearby 1942 Ted Shawn Theatre, and though the Perles’s pitched roof is metal—a practical choice that nonetheless contrasts with surrounding shingle roofs—it climaxes in a monitor, just like its neighbors.
Even though one of the Perles Family Studio’s functions will be to accommodate performances that get rained out at the roofless Inside/Out stage, it will serve primarily as a place for practicing. Jacob’s Pillow Dance director Pamela Tatge says that during planning stages “what dancers expressed was the need for a space in which to develop new work.” The studio will be open to the ten to fifteen annual residents of the just-launched Pillow Lab, as well as students from the nearby School at Jacob’s Pillow, and families from neighboring towns that motor up the mountain to learn traditional barn dances such as the New England contra.