About this project

Publication: Design Solutions

This project was published in the Summer 2015 issue of Design Solutions Magazine.
Project NameMoss Hall Center for the Arts
ArchitectSnøhetta
LocationBlacksburg, VA
ContractorHolder Construction
PhotographerBoyd Photography
VeneerWhite Oak

Moss Hall Center for the Arts

Located at the crossroads of Virginia Tech University and downtown Blacksburg, on the corner of Main Street and Alumni Mall, the new Moss Arts Center houses the Center for the Arts and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, a university-level research institute. The Moss Arts Center provides a community center in the grandest sense, a place where the arts are a catalyst for engagement, inspiration, and discovery.

New facilities complement existing venues, and are located in close proximity to Henderson Hall, Theatre 101, Squires Student Center, the Armory Gallery, and the Lyric Theatre forming a prominent arts district that crosses the boundaries of campus and community.

Awesome Arts Center

The center’s 150,000-square-foot facility includes an 88,000 square foot performance hall which houses the Fife Theatre; three floors of lobbies which serve as special event venues; the stunning grand staircase; and backstage support areas serving the theatre. It also includes three visual arts galleries capable of exhibiting a wide range of traditional and transmedia works and installations.

Virginia Tech had been planning this project for approximately 20 years. It came to fruition with the beginning of construction in June 2010. Design of the arts center was managed by Snøhetta, New York City, while acoustic consulting group, Arup, provided the critically important task of acoustical balance and performance.

Together the firms’ objective was to create an integrated space that was beautiful as well as functional. To convert the daunting and complex acoustic requirements into reality, ONSITE Woodwork Corporation was selected for its expertise and reputation in complex wood design. ONSITE, an AWI member firm headquartered in Loves Park, Illinois, maintains full service offices in Austell, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Houston, Texas.

“We’ve built a reputation by fusing the technology of tomorrow with the service expected by past generations. Flexibility, responsiveness, training and perspective make ONSITE the perfect partner to meet the demands of any project.”

Richard Greene Regional Vice President

Exquisite Panels

The stunning 1,274 seat Fife theatre is a highly flexible performance venue with impeccable acoustics, capable of supporting a broad range of events across music, theatre, dance, and new media. Features include a performance area measuring 60 feet wide by 50 feet deep with additional wing space; removable orchestral shell with ceiling; state-of-the-art lighting, projection, and audio systems; and two multilevel, forestage lifts for pit orchestras, additional seating, or stage extension.

Selected for its warm tones, the exquisite wall panels were clad in White Oak. According to Richard Greene of ONSITE Woodwork, the White Oak “was selected in a rift cut to reduce the flaking effect and to provide a tight comb grain for a symmetrical, consistent look to accommodate the long wall runs. In addition, the multi-contour panels were slip matched with an alternating orientation.

“To retain the soft, warm feel that was desired, the woodwork was finished with a natural 35-degree sheen and to achieve acoustic requirements, the panels were engineered as two joined panels, each with a compound bend in multiple planes, very similar to that of a pitched airplane propeller.”

Achieving the visual and acoustical requirements for the wall panels was a significant challenge to the fabricators, notes Arup’s Dennis Blount. “The design requirements were seemingly at odds; the double curved wall panels needed to be flexible enough to achieve the complex curvature while remaining massive and stiff enough to meet the acoustic design criteria needed to adequately reflect and scatter sound. Also, the ceiling ribs needed to be lightweight to minimize structural loads and costs, while remaining solid enough so as not to absorb too much sound energy.” Adds Ian Colburn of Snøhetta, 

“the warmth of the naturally finished, rift cut White Oak and sensual curvature of the wall panels are a true marriage between engineering, design and skilled execution.”

The ceiling ribbons required a color to be noticeable but not overly reflective, explains Greene. A white satin paint finish on MDF core provided the ideal look. “Although not compound, the ribbons were designed as re-entrant bends on a single plane, but in transitioning slopes, similar to that of a curved, ascending staircase. To achieve this, a box construction of the ribbons was approached.”

Ceiling Ribbons

The ceiling ribbons required a color to be noticeable but not overly reflective, explains Greene. A white satin paint finish on MDF core provided the ideal look. “Although not compound, the ribbons were designed as re-entrant bends on a single plane, but in transitioning slopes, similar to that of a curved, ascending staircase. To achieve this, a box construction of the ribbons was approached.”

Greene continues, “The ribbon wall consisted of thin ply MDF sheets bent around radius forms and cut according to the ascending height. The ribbon headers were constructed in the same manner and then assembled. Each piece was also duplicated as a mirror image. Constructed in large sections, each piece was hoisted and hung by threaded rod and laser leveled.”

“The challenges of an extremely mixed program brought about unique opportunities for varied spaces and a truly collaborative overlap of seemingly different areas of focus,” says Colburn. “Every space promotes collaboration among art, design, light, sound, music and performance.”

The woodworking firm spent considerable time coordinating the fabrication and installation of the sculpted panels and ceiling ribbons, adds Greene.

Other Features

The arts center also features a four-story experimental Cube for performance, immersive environments, installations, and adjacent research studios that house the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. An outdoor amphitheatre area is for live performances, film showings, video and other streaming content on the west wall of the Cube. A courtyard patio faces Alumni Hall, and outdoor balconies can be accessed from the upper lobbies of the performance hall.

The Merryman Family Learning Studio is a flexible space designed to foster creative engagement, design and inquiry for students, teachers and researchers focused on K12 and higher education learning models.

The center’s galleries, both in combination and individually, provide intimate settings for exhibiting a wide range of traditional, digital, and experimental works and installations from national and international artists, faculty, students, and community based projects.

Team Spirit

“Working with ONSITE was a pleasurable and professional experience,” notes Colburn. “They not only offered smart technical expertise in the means and methods of construction, but understood the design intent from the onset and worked hard to maintain a high standard of quality. They continually went the extra mile to ensure the satisfaction of Snøhetta and the client, and it is evident in the final product.”

There was “a team spirit of trust and confidence in determining the client’s needs for design intent coupled with the acoustical requirements,” summarizes Greene.

The Moss Arts Center received a LEED Gold certification for using a whole building energy model that resulted in energy savings of 17%; for recycling 96% of all construction waste; for using 60% of all wood products from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests; for utilizing 20% of all construction materials containing recycled content; and because 35% of all construction materials were harvested and manufactured within 500 miles of the jobsite.