Esther Eastman Music Center, Hotchkiss School / Centerbrook Architects and Planners

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron

At The Hotchkiss School, an independent boarding high school in Connecticut, the music program was far more important to the School than its aging, subterranean facilities implied. The quality of student performances was consistently excellent, but except for the occasional above ground concert in the chapel, the musicians were out of sight to visitors and students alike. So plans were undertaken to renovate an existing drama theater into a venue for musical performances and expand it to provide practice rooms and a rehearsal hall.

Architect: Centerbrook Architects and Planners
Location: Lakeville, Connecticut,
Photographs: Esto Photographics: Peter Aaron and Albert Vecerka

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron

Lead by Jefferson B. Riley, a lapsed violinist and intermittent piano player, the Centerbrook Architects team was able to demonstrate that the high cost of renovations could better be invested in an all-glass music pavilion added onto the existing theater. It would more clearly express the importance of music and the arts at the school. The result is a performance hall that not only doubles as an uplifting rehearsal space, but also puts music front and center for all to see.

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron

The showpiece of the new Music Center at the Hotchkiss School is the Katherine M. Elfers Hall, a glass-walled, 715-seat pavilion that affords an exceptional musical experience prized by audiences and musicians alike. Individual and ensemble practice rooms, a music technology studio, classrooms, a radio station, and faculty offices complete the Center’s program.

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron

The concert hall is an elongated octagon configured in the round with floor, parterre, and balcony seating so that this glass pavilion engenders an uncommon intimacy, whether for a handful of aficionados or the entire school. Slatted mahogany railings for the upper seating levels evoke the curving bodies of string instruments, while they also soften the acoustics. The glass wall panels are folded accordion style to diffract sound and produce a clear, full tone, while presenting a sparkling façade inside and out.

section / courtesy of

Reflected trees adorn the outside glass walls in the afternoon light, imprinting nature on architecture; inside, views of an upland meadow leading to a tranquil lake beckon the eyes. At evening time the sun settles gently behind the audience. One such idyll inspired a visiting musician to interrupt his performance so that the assemblage could turn around and savor the vivid tableau that was delighting him.

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron

The pavilion gives the music arts a wholly new venue not only on The Hotchkiss School campus but also for the entire region. It hosts an annual series of performances and summer open air concerts by guest artists that are free to the public.The building employs sustainable materials and resources and has received a LEED Certified Rating from the U. S. Green Building Council.

© Esto Photographics / Peter Aaron
interior elevation / Courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners

Project Team: Jefferson B. Riley, FAIA; Mark A. Herter, AIA, Project Manager; Stephen G. Fennell, AIA; Uzma Mirza, AIA; Lisa Boettger, Joshua E. Linkov, RA; Susan J. Pinckney, ASID; Sheryl A. Milardo
Theater/Lighting Consultant: Charles Cosler Theatre Design, Incorporated
Acoustic, Sound System Consultant: Marshall/KMK Associates, Ltd.
Structural Engineer: Gilsanz Murray Steficek, LLP
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: AltieriSeborWieber
Civil Engineer: CCA, Incorporate
Geotechnical: GeoDesign
Specifications Consultant: Spec Tran
Code Consultant: Philip R. Sherman
Contractor: O & G Industries

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Cite: "Esther Eastman Music Center, Hotchkiss School / Centerbrook Architects and Planners" 16 Jun 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>