The Guthrie Theater, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, is more than just a theater, it is a center for art. Founded in 1963, its original, now-demolished building once stood about two and a half miles to the southwest of the current building, on the site of the Walker Art Center. However, the Guthrie would outgrow its original space and upon realizing that an expansion of the building would not be feasible. The theater decided to move to a beautiful section of land in the Historic Mills District of downtown Minneapolis. The land overlooks the Mississippi River on one side and the Minneapolis skyline on the other.
French architect Jean Nouvel was given the opportunity to design the new theater and the result is magnificent. He was challenged to not create just a theater building, rather a hub of art and performance for the theater-rich culture of the Twin Cities. It is made obvious through the experiential qualities of the architecture. The Guthrie is not intended to be viewed solely as performance space for actors. The building’s design captivated audiences before and after plays and during intermissions. The main spaces of the building are also open for the public to explore, with the exception of the theaters themselves.
There are many amazing spaces to be experienced here, with the “Endless Bridge” being one of the building’s most stunning architectural features. The 178-foot cantilever protrudes from the side of the building, carrying guests out to beautiful views of the Mississippi landscape. Along with several lobbies, the spacious Target Lounge features a full bar, and the building also houses a gift shop.
The Wurtele Thrust Stage is the Guthrie’s main stage and holds the largest number of guests, with 1,100 seats. This stage resembles the original Guthrie buildings’ theater and hosts most of the larger performances. In order to expand the number and variety of plays which the Guthrie could feature, the McQuire Proscenium Stage was developed. The Dowling Studio is a “black box” theater with a central focus developing young performers and artists. The space is heavily used by the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Bachelor of Fine Arts Actor Training Program. Outside of the Dowling Studio is the Dowling Studio Lounge, which is a captivating space with beautiful views of the surrounding Minneapolis skyline and landscape – all viewed through yellow-tinted floor-to-ceiling windows, bathing the space with color. This, once again, demonstrates the Guthrie’s and Nouvel’s fierce passion for creating a building with countless architectural spaces that make the experience of visiting the Guthrie so much more than simply seeing a play.
Nouvel originally intended for the building’s exterior façade to be covered in irrigated sheet metal, however, he was asked to modify that part of his design. He returned with the plan to have the building clothed in a dark blue stainless steel. This would give the exterior of the building life. When the sun sets and the sky darkens the towering building slowly “disappears” into the ever-darkening blue of the sky. During sunrise, the opposite effect takes place, with the Guthrie slowly reappearing from the darkness as it proudly sits overlooking the mighty Mississippi.
It is important that architecture be viewed as a form of art? What buildings in your community express themselves as works of art? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.