Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance is a visual reminder of Houston’s commitment to the performing arts and a living billboard for dance. Gensler’s design draws inspiration from a proscenium stage, showcasing classes and rehearsals through large windows into double-height-volume rehearsal studios. Home to Houston Ballet and its Academy, the six-storey, 115,000 sq ft building boasts nine dance studios, a dance laboratory and artistic, administrative and support facilities. It is also the largest dance education facility in the United States.
The airy, spacious interior features double-height studios that offer interior views of rehearsing dancers and maximise the building’s spectacular views of Houston. Interior sight lines engender openness, activity and collaboration. In its old facility, professional dancers were largely separated from students and administrative staff. The new facility fosters innovation by offering a multitude of spaces for dancers, students, teachers and administrators to interact and socialise.
The Center for Dance enables Houston Ballet to expand and enhance its education programs, which reach students from preschool through adulthood, including a program that leverages dance therapy for people with Parkinsons Disease. In addition to ballet classes, students have access to classes that introduce ballet performance production and even arts administration. State-of-the-art practice studios feature flooring supported on a basket-weave platform designed to minimise injury to dancers while mitigating noise transfer from one studio to another. Each studio features natural daylight, exterior views of the city and A/V equipment to review performances.
The 200-seat Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Laboratory provides artists with a unique space to develop new works, and the dimensions of the space mimic the stage dimensions of Houston Ballet’s primary performance space. A daylight harvesting system maximises use of natural light and reduces energy consumption. Unique finishes include reclaimed walnut planks that warm the threshold to each rehearsal studio. White ceramic inlaid windows reduce energy consumption, while allowing natural light to filter in. West-facing studios have automated blinds that lower as the afternoon sun increases.
Houston Ballet’s artistic director, Stanton Welch, notes: “The Center for Dance gives Houston Ballet a home that is truly an international dance center. The building will be an icon for the art of dance nationally and internationally. The Center for Dance will further secure Houston’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, international city with a thriving arts community.”