Arts Desk

Why the Earthquake Moved Arena Stage’s Walls

Unlike many West Coast denizens, architect James Brown isn't sneering at yesterday's 5.8 temblor. "That was a real West Coast earthquake," he says.

Brown works at the Vancouver firm Bing Thom Architects, and supervised the construction of Arena Stage's new Mead Center for American Theater, which opened to great fanfare last fall. If you were at the Mead Center yesterday when the earthquake hit, you would have noticed that its dramatic glass exterior was moving.

This was intentional. Although the Mead Center wasn't designed to be earthquake-proof, it is hurricane-proof. For the project, Brown's firm wanted a very lightweight facade that would allow passersby to see inside—the building contains Arena's historic Fichandler and Kreeger theaters—but still support the larger structure.  So the Bing Thom team designed a system that allows the glass walls to move like curtains, four inches in and out. Brown says they can withstand 80 mph winds. "Now we know it can survive a 6.0 earthquake," Brown says.

We'll be hearing more from Bing Thom Architects soon: The firm is designing the art museum-cum-hotel-cum-residences that prominent art collectors Mera and Don Rubell are building at the site of the Randall School in Southwest. But that's still a few years away.

Photo courtesy Arena Stage.

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