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Ohio State design team wins theater renovation challenge

Students worked with industry experts to imagine a new space at Sullivant Hall

Imagine tree-lined views as live performers entertained students and faculty on a high-tech stage near The Ohio State University’s Sullivant Hall. Grass-lined seating on natural stone terraces filled with visitors entertained by the arts.

That was the winning vision of a team of Ohio State students participating in a national design competition in theatre architecture and planning hosted by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology and the American Society of Theatre Consultants this year.

The Sullivant Outdoor Venue Renovation teamAllison Summers, a third-year graduate student in architecture, helped lead the Sullivant Outdoor Venue Renovation team to a win in the 2023 ASTC – USITT Venue Renovation Challenge. The Sullivant team won the Edgar L. Lustig Award and $2,500 after presenting their ideas to the ASTC over spring break.

“We picked Sullivant Hall because [we felt] it had both an underutilized outdoor space that we could use, and an indoor space it was recently renovated,” Summers said. “We decided to use that as an opportunity to put a new venue for students to use, and the exterior is right next to the Wexner Center for the Arts… [it had] a huge green space that students could use. So we wanted to make an indoor-outdoor venue.”

The Sullivant team was one of two from Ohio State. The second team in the competition took on a project to renovate a church sanctuary into a collaborative, flexible performance space with rehearsal, classroom and support spaces on the lower level.

Each team was connected with a professional consultant from the industry, including Jerad Schomer, principal of the New York Studio at Charcoalblue, and Patrick Barrett, senior associate at DLR Group, the firm that designed Ohio State’s Timashev Family Music Building. Brad Steinmetz, associate professor of Theatre, Film and Media Arts was the faculty mentor for both groups.

Over four months, the students learned about theatre architecture and planning, toured local theatre venues, worked closely with their professional mentors, and met with theatre designers, owners and end users, Steinmetz said.

“My main concerns were circulation and accessibility. As an architect, I’ve done other projects at Ohio State where I've done research on what students want in an outdoor space. And it’s mostly, they want a place to sit. They want shade. They want power,” she said. “And then accessibility, because we were on a sloped site, and we had to maintain access for wheelchair users. And that was a big challenge on that site.”

Summers and teammates Daqi Bao, Erin Shaw, Jessica Hightower and Yun Yen came from different backgrounds and the diversity helped make the project stand out. The team consisted of theatre, architecture, and industrial design students.

She said the theater majors on the team helped focus on essentials like lighting and audio/visual systems as well as making sure the needs of performers were met in the designed spaces. Shaw, an industrial design major pushed for one of the signature design elements: a garden roof.

“We pushed back a lot, but she was adamant, she was like: ‘We need this for the students. We need this for the people of Sullivant Hall because we're taking space from them,” Summers said. “And the judges really loved it. They said ‘This is exactly what we need. This is what clients are asking for.’”

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