Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Guthrie Theater: Love it or Hate it?
Well, it's been around long enough now for most of us to form an opinion, reconsider that opinion and perhaps, form a new opinion.

When the Jean Nouvel-designed building opened last year, here's what Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times wrote: "The new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis should offer comfort to those who miss the 1980's Nouvel. Rising at the edge of the Mississippi, its confident forms are rooted in a vision of a muscular industrial America, and its structural bravura will certainly please the techno-fetishists. As a thoughtful response to the American city's evolving role as a haven for cultural tourism, it also coaxes new meaning out of a haggard landscape."

In his recently released book, AIA Guide to the Twin Cities, Larry Millett had this to say: "Large, dark, and rather mysterious, this new riverfront landmark is like a play full of wonderful moments that doesn't quite achieve its full dramatic potential."

Adds Millett, "The new Guthrie ... conveys a sense of mass and power, so much so that you could [imagine] real electricity , as opposed to the theatrical kind, being generated here."

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal and Arts Journal theater critic, complained about getting lost on his first trip to the new building: "I'm not an architecture critic, but I do spend a lot of time in theater lobbies, and this one didn't do a thing for me: The low-ceilinged public areas are dark, oppressive and laid out with irksome illogic. Rarely can there have been a theater whose interior was less well suited to the purpose of making its occupants feel festive and expectant. The process of getting from the street to the Wurtele Thrust Stage, the largest of the three performance spaces, is so protracted -- not to mention confusing -- that I briefly had trouble focusing on the revival of Neil Simon's 'Lost in Yonkers' that had lured me to town."

A friend of mine couldn't agree more with Teachout. He likens the whole Guthrie experience to walking through an airline terminal. Long escalator rides. Blaring directions from loudspeakers. A sense of unease.

So, what do you think? Is the Guthrie an inviting place to see theater? How does the design enhance or detract from the experience? Other thoughts? (Photos by Todd Melby)


Anonymous said...

I'm unseduced. From the outside it looks like Ikea. Inside I feel, well, underwhelmed, not to mention off kilter. I'm game for architectural experimentation, but this feels cold and institutional, not lively and fun. It's theater, for gosh sakes: I want to feel transported to a magical world, not to the food court at the airport.

Adrienne said...

I don't really like the outside of the Guthrie - it reminds me of a horrendously ugly building in downtown Madison, WI (sorry can't remember the name and couldn't find a picture). The Guthrie is striking, no doubt, and does have a place in that district, but a big blue box doesn't cut it for me personally.
I do like aspects of the inside, especially the thought gone into providing lovely views of the river area. The mirror-framed windows provide interesting visual affects and I love how when you come off the elevator on the 4th (?) floor you immediately come into view of the river. The elevators don't bother me - I think they are fun and they remind me of the subway elevators in DC.
However the whole atmosphere of the inside does come off as dark and hotel-like. It's not a place I come and want to hang out. Yes it's mysterious but it's a little dreary maybe. Feels like an old movie theater to me.

Todd Melby said...

Great insights. Keep those comments coming.

Thomas said...

I think the building is fabulous. The ticket hall, shop, and cafe on the ground floor are wonderfully open and light. Ascending the escalator one gets the sense of leaving one world and arriving at another. Unlike other observers I think the public address announcements add to the sense of excitement. At an airport the announcements compete with a million other things including all manner of travel related worries. Ascending the tunnel-like escalator focuses the mind on what is ahead not behind or to the side. The 4th floor theater lobby does indeed feel like a hotel lobby, but a nice hotel lobby, one where people want to go and spend $20 on a Cosmo.

And I haven't even mentioned the views on the skybridge. Even the rather steep slope of the ramp going out to it is kind of exciting. (There is no way the ramp can be ADA compliant with that slope.)

The exterior I find even more compelling. Its materials feel kind of retro futuristic and the form and context makes it feel industrial--as if a power station had been turned into a disco. My only fear is that the colors won't age well and 20 years from now it will the 2020 equivalent of avacado green.

The adjacent Gold Medal Park is the prefect neighbor as well.

No doubt some of my enthusiasm is based on the dreadfully boring architecture that prevades my surroundings in DC. Visiting my "hometown" of Minneapolis is like a breath of fresh artistic air.

Michael Schrock said...

My first impression was definitely negative. A mass of midnight and the new mannequin pis of Minneapolis.
The first production I attended was chaos with two simultaneous shows with staff frantically directing cattle down the chutes with people running into each other and question marks flying.
I have since visited a dozen times and I have to say it's growing on me. The best times are during the day when no one is there. Love discovering the subtle window views. Love the bridge (could have loved it just as much supported by a column for $4 million less). I have to say I almost like it now.
...but spectacular does not excuse poor functional design. We could enjoy all the things the Guthrie now has in an attractive building that works.