Designed by Tucker Sadler Architects, a new $66 million Performing Arts Center at Southwestern College in Chula Vista took its cue from ancient Mayan cities, including its soaring roofline and giant sun glyph.
“I’m just so excited that we have this to serve our community for the district we serve and the neighborhood around us,” said Cynthia McGregor, dean of the school of arts and social services.
“It’s a dream for me to be part of it all,” McGregor said.
The new 48,575-square-foot facility replaced Mayan Hall, the college’s former venue for theatrical and dance performances.
Designed in 1969 by architect George Foster, Mayan Hall was razed earlier this year.
Although many had fond memories of performing in the old Mayan Hall, “it was very challenging,” McGregor said.
“Mayan Hall was used basically for performing arts performances and maybe a handful of college activities based on availability,” McGregor said. Because of its limited space, “We had to say no to a lot of things,” she added.
Foster is recognized for developing the Mayan Modern style, which in San Diego can be traced to the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. He was the college campus architect until 1973, according to the San Diego Architectural Foundation.
“The campus is all based on the Mayan culture,” McGregor said. “Every building has glyphs on the surface of the building that represents what that building is housing.”
In keeping with that tradition, Tucker Sadler CEO Greg Mueller said that he studied Mayan ruins for his inspiration in designing the new Performing Arts Center.
“I took a look at several Mayan ruins and looked at how they’re tiered and the hierarchy of the steps,” Mueller said. “I used that to form the building so that the building itself is an expression of ancient Mayan culture.”
The building angles go up and over the main hall.
“Those represent the different tiers of the (Mayan) development when you see them in the hillsides,” Mueller said. “The copper color that is on the roof is the color of the sunset in San Diego. Copper also was a color that was used in the Mayan cities as well so it reflects the Mayan culture and San Diego.”
A sun glyph that covers one exterior wall was designed by Mark Van Stone, a professor of art history at Southwestern College.
At the heart of the new center is a 7,341-square-foot auditorium and stage on the ground floor with 540 seats.
The center also has a 2,448-square-foot “Black Box” theater on the first floor that can seat up to 170 people, depending on the configuration.
“They can do theater-in-the-round, they can do front-focused performances, or front and sides,” Mueller said.
A 2,915-square-foot performance dance studio and 2,205-square-foot instructional dance studio are on the second floor.
“The building has the ability to house three different events at the same time,” McGregor said.
The dance studios juts out from the main structure of the building in what Mueller said is another reflection of Mayan culture, meant to be reminiscent of Mayan social gathering places that jutted out of hillsides.
He said a wide staircase leading into the center is meant to be “warm and welcoming.”
“It makes you feel like you’re coming to a substantial performance which the students are putting on,” Mueller said. “Some of the performances I’ve seen at Southwestern College are really amazing. They deserve to have their work put on display, whether it’s in the main hall, in the dance studios, or in the Black Box.”
Ground to roof windows along the front of the building flood the interior with natural light. “I wanted to harvest as much natural lighting as possible in the building,” Mueller said.
Inside, Mueller said he designed a twisting staircase leading to the second floor to mimic the moves a dancer makes during a performance. As they climb the stairs, “the patrons get to experience what these performers do,” Mueller said.
There’s also a 1,638-square-foot theater lab, a 1,045-square-foot classroom and a 1,092-square-foot classroom.
The classrooms are on the ground floor and one is designed as a lighting studio where students can train as professional theater lighting technicians, McGregor said.
The new theater is on the northeast side of campus at the corner of Otay Lakes Road and H Street on what had been a parking lot.
Taking advantage of the sloping site, Mueller said an outdoor amphitheater with tiered seating was created on the west side of the center.
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