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Explaining the Wyly Once More


by Jerome Weeks 10 Feb 2009

Architect Joshua Prince-Ramus has explained his thinking behind the Wyly’s radical theater design in a video taken of his 2006 TEDtalk. Now David Basulto re-states that thinking for urbanpromoter.com, laying out graphically what led to a theater ‘standing on its head.’ Extra added visual bonus: a compendium of images of the Wyly being designed and […]

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Architect Joshua Prince-Ramus has explained his thinking behind the Wyly’s radical theater design in a video taken of his 2006 TEDtalk. Now David Basulto re-states that thinking for urbanpromoter.com, laying out graphically what led to a theater ‘standing on its head.’

Extra added visual bonus: a compendium of images of the Wyly being designed and built.

UPDATE: Rem Koolhaas, the other credited architect of the Wyly (Prince-Ramus worked in his OMA outfit until he established his own REX), has had an unexpected setback. The luxury hotel he designed in Beijing has burned down. It wasn’t completed, but lunar new year fireworks set it on fire.

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  • Wow another glass box. Who could ever design a glass box in this day and age.
    I listened to about 1 minute of his talk and found it everything the art revolution is against.
    Great architecture is back with the art revolution from Dallas, and it is opposed to all this puffed up nonsense.

  • Well, for one thing, it’s not a glass box. The only glass on the entire external, aboveground surface covers the first two floors, where the theater auditorium is, and then there’s a small strip or two along one or the other upper walls — the few spots where there are, yes, windows. Otherwise, the entire surface is made up of vertical aluminum tubes backed by water-resistant insulation.

    You could have dismissed the Wyly as “just another metal box,” but in fact, there is not another theater like it in the world. Whether the Wyly works as intended is a separate issue for when it’s up and running. But if you know of another theater that exists as a mid-level skyscraper with all of the audience and support facilities (the lobby, the dressing and design rooms, etc) stacked above or below the auditorium — I’d certainly like to hear of it. Otherwise, this is a unique design, utterly foreign to the traditional world of performance halls.

    What’s more, the structural engineering involved is also radical. To permit those two ground floors of open glass — to be as open as possible — the architects had to limit the support columns. Which is why the Wyly is primarily supported by just one of the four walls (it’s where all the elevators and utility systems are — in this image, it’s the far wall that you can’t see). Everything else is either cantilevered out from that one wall or it’s supported by those giant “V-shaped” columns (technically, they’re known as “battered columns”) which you can clearly see in this illustration and which permit absolutely no verrtical support column on the corner nearest us. (The same thing happens on the far corner along the right.)

    If the Wyly did nothing else — if it wasn’t a theater at all but just an office tower — this alone would make it the talk of architecture/engineering circles. But when you add the revolutionary stacking of theater functions and the remarkable ‘curtain’ of aluminum tubes on its surface, the Wyly actually piles innovation on top of innovation.

  • Least a glass box – like the towers across from Northpark are quite attractive – if they’d dump the signage. Yet this is an ugly misshapen box. This is a hybrid of the worst of architectural boxes and the worst of that Pompidou Museum mess. Not for me.

    • Bill Marvel

      “Not for me.”
      This scarcely passes for cogent art criticism.

  • Well Bill you’re just complaining that’s just trolling – and of course if you were honest and read the rest you would see why I disliked it. Now your turn.
    Tell me why you like it.

  • Bill Marvel

    I’m reserving judgment until I see and experience the completed building — the usual approach when critiquing a work of art.

  • Jim Rain

    Having watched the construction from across the street every day for over a year, I have to say that it’s a shame the structure will be hidden by the aluminum tubes. The way the building cantilevers out from the single solid wall and floats above the ground, supported only by the diagonal columns, is amazing. I wish the design had not covered that up. I cannot wait to see if the structure remains apparent from the inside.

  • Parts of the structure, those ‘battered columns’ for instance, will be visible inside. One architect involved with it even said, quite happily, that you’ll be able to “read the building” — understand its construction.

    Also, the tubes won’t cover the first two floors, so the ‘cantilever’ effect will actually be made to appear stronger. At night with the curtains up and the lights on, the Wyly should appear to be floating on light, or like some square rocket taking off.

    I still have some strong reservations about whether this building will work as a theater, but I agree, it has been fascinating, watching it go up and understanding how it was engineered.