The Bucksbaum Center for the Arts (BCA) was built and dedicated in September 1999 as an effort by Grinnell College to consolidate the arts under one roof. The original buildings that housed the fine arts were a small international-style rectangular building, designed by Walter Netsch of the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, which still remains at the core of the BCA, and the adjacent Roberts Theatre, also designed by Netsch. Both buildings were built in 1961. After a few decades, they were not able to accommodate the College’s increasingly popular art, music, and theatre departments. Despite the placement of the school’s Print and Drawing Study Room in the basement of Burling Library, there was a need for additional space to house a growing art collection, and additional performance, rehearsal, and studio space for music, art, and theatre classes and performing groups.
The result was a campaign initiated by Pamela Ferguson, former president of the College, and Carolyn Bucksbaum ’51, trustee of the College and passionate patron of the arts. This campaign aimed to build an addition off of the existing fine arts building, where the old skating lawn was located (between Roberts Theatre and Burling). To design the new fine arts center, the College selected world-renowned firm Cesar Pelli & Associates, now Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Cesar Pelli’s vision for the arts center utilizes the unique curved plot of land along Sixth Avenue to create an impressive and attractive location to express the presence of the fine arts to the campus and the community.
The resulting Bucksbaum Center for the Arts is an attractive structure whose radial form maximizes the area for the center and accommodates each branch of the arts in its fragmented slices. These slices make up spaces of diverse sizes that, from the outside, look like a series of large stepping blocks. They house smaller rehearsal rooms up to the large Sebring-Lewis Hall. The other curved section of the building visible from Sixth Avenue holds three stories of large art studio rooms for ceramics, painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpting classes. The Department of Theatre and Dance received a brand new black-box theatre (Flanagan Studio Theatre) and scene shop. Pelli fully incorporated and renovated the earlier buildings. The final building’s impressive form is accentuated by the variety and quality of construction materials (patterned golden brick masonry, white painted steel, and variegated strand board panels), which are emblematic of Cesar Pelli’s architecture.
Nestled within the heart of this new Bucksbaum Center for the Arts is the Faulconer Gallery, designed to present notable international, national, and regional temporary exhibitions. For this reason Pelli designed a flexible gallery space that could accommodate art media of all kinds. Additionally, movable wall panels increase the flexibility, allowing the space to be divided and arranged in an infinite number of combinations for one or more exhibitions. In this way the gallery can serve as a learning tool for coursework and at the same time offer diverse and new opportunities for students and the general public to view and experience art.
In designing the gallery, the College aimed to create a space that would be an inspiring aesthetic experience. Pelli’s treatment of this 7,400-square-foot space does not disappoint. The floor is made of end-grain plywood from which rise several concrete columns. This large space is illuminated by a series of indirect skylights in the clerestory and other natural lighting from large glazed windows. The far wall of the gallery curves to embrace the circular form of the building. This long curved surface presents a challenge to hanging art, yet its curve is gentle and its size is perfect for installing large works. In the end the gallery can accommodate any type of art, from easel paintings to installation art and from prints and drawings to video.
Cesar Pelli was born in Argentina and earned his diploma in architecture from the University of Tucumán, San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina. He is known best for his Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, at one time the world’s tallest buildings; the World Finance Center in New York; and the International Finance Center in Hong Kong. He actively designs a variety of architectural projects, from fitness centers to skyscraper office buildings.
In 1977 he became dean of the Yale University School of Architecture and founded his firm Cesar Pelli & Associates in New Haven, Conn. After resigning as dean in 1984, Pelli continued teaching and lecturing, as well as writing several books on his designs and architectural theories. His work avoids creating a structure for solely aesthetic purposes. He believes “works of architecture never exist by themselves; they are always part of a larger whole.” He encourages his work to interact with people and places importance on the personal experience over the aesthetic appeal. However, his handle on material choice is apparent in all of his buildings.
Pelli’s work at Grinnell includes the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts (1999), the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (2006) at the heart of campus and the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center (two phases, 2005 and 2010) on the north end of the campus, in collaboration with Sasaki Associates.
Will Schwaller ’09
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts and the Faulconer Gallery
Recital Hall and Rehearsal Rooms
Sebring-Lewis Hall in the Bucksbaum Center has elevated Grinnell's musical performance tradition by providing an intimate, accessible, and acoustically responsive space. Well suited for student and faculty recitals and concerts, the recital hall preserves and enhances the College's level of musical excellence. Student performers test their skills here, and students in the audience discover new musical interests as they are exhilarated by listening to live music.
- Square feet of recital hall: 4,050
- Seating capacity of recital hall: 348
- Type of stage floor: tongue-in-groove, cherry
- Portable seated risers
- Two Green Rooms
- Sound-isolated control room
- Separate rehearsal spaces for large ensembles, early music, and non-Western instruments
- Square feet of early music hall: 1,125
- Square feet of ethno music hall: 940
- Square feet of large ensemble rehearsal room: 1,940
The Faulconer Gallery is an inspiring aesthetic experience. It also offers a valuable learning and teaching experience for students, faculty, and the campus community.
- Square feet of gallery space: 7,420
- Climate control system
- Flexible and functional exhibition space for diverse artistic genres
- Special reception desk, which reflects the shape of the building
- Five lighting zones, ranging from natural to five-foot candles
- Square feet of storage space: 1,870
- Square feet of workshop space: 725
- Square feet of packing and preparation area: 1,200
Theatres and Dance Studio
The theatre component of the Bucksbaum Center allows for innovation and the means to enhance Grinnell's theatre tradition. The Flanagan Studio Theatre provides students and faculty with space for experimentation and refinement. Built to be flexible, the studio theatre allows for multiple seating arrangements and lighting possibilities.
- Square feet of studio theatre: 2,000
- Seating capacity of studio theatre: variable, 120 maximum
- Square feet of scene shop: 3,200 with paint area
- Square feet of dance studio: 1,170
- Dedicated dust collection system in scene shop
- Number of major power tools: 10 including table saw, radial arm saw, drill press
- Ceiling height in scene shop: 20 feet
- Sprung floor in Roberts Theatre, properly constructed for dance
- Separate welding room
- Circuiting systems for lighting
- House light system
- Upgraded lighting and sound systems
- Costume shop with separate dye, wash, and spray rooms
- Sound/recording studio
- One Green Room
- Dressing and make-up rooms
A ceramics studio, a sculpture studio, a printmaking studio, a painting studio, and several multipurpose studios optimize faculty and student interaction. Students are no longer turned away from studio art courses because of a lack of space. In addition, art studios for visiting artists attract speakers and artists from around the nation, giving students exposure to a variety of artistic styles and techniques.
- Number of art studios: 11
- Square feet of faculty art studios: 500
- Square feet of sculpture studio: 2,200
- Square feet of ceramics studio: 2,200
- Square feet of multipurpose studio: 1,750
- Square feet of printmaking studio: 2,400
- Square feet of painting studio: 1,930
- Square feet of drawing studio: 1,760
- Track lighting in all studios
- Special air handling and exhaust systems
- Separate welding room
- Separate kiln room
- Art computer room
Music Practice, Classroom, and Lab Spaces
The Bucksbaum Center offers an environment that accommodates students and fulfills educational needs. Students have access to technologies that aid teaching and learning, including an electronic music laboratory, a multimedia arts laboratory, and a CD-ROM library of audio and visual materials.
- Total number of music practice rooms: 15
- Square feet for practice rooms: varies from 50 to 250
- Largest practice room: percussion
- Special rooms for percussion, harp, and two-piano practice
- Square feet of electronic music studio: 500
- Thirteen-station music keyboard and computer lab
- Multimedia production laboratory
- Floor, ceiling, and wall treatments for sound isolation
- Special software and hardware for music notation, ear training, and group keyboard instruction
- Audio-, video-, and computer-equipped classrooms and seminar rooms
- Climate control system for instrument storage