Resonating Newport - A Performing Arts Theatre

  • Newport Congregational Church (“NCC”) gathered in 1695 in Newport, RI.  In the mid 19th century, the current church structure at the corner of Spring and Pelham Streets was built. 
    In 1880, NCC commissioned Newport resident artist John La Farge, who had just mastered the technique of creating opalescent glass, to decorate the sanctuary.  NCC required that La Farge include no Christian iconography.  Thus the polychrome painted walls and ceilings and the opalescent glass windows’ designs reflect the artist’s cosmopolitan inspiration from many, mostly Eastern, cultures and visual traditions.  All the windows are uniquely non-figurative—with no representations of Jesus or other figures from the Bible-- and therefore very different from La Farge’s other works.
    The church structure has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is contained within the National Historic District in Downtown Newport.
    The van Beuren Charitable Foundation called upon the Interior Architecture department at RISD to propose an adaptive reuse studio. Divided in two parts, the studio was to look into reversible adaptive interventions for the church without harming the murals on the ceiling, the opalescent glass windows and the structure.
    The first part of the studio was to create a group installation. Using architectural textile to create a sweeping canopy, the design was to pay homage to LaFarge's interior architecture and art for the church.
    The second part of the studio was the individual intervention. Using a program for the church with minimum intervention to this preserved iconic piece of architecture, each student had propose a function that would be used as a public space as well as a church for service on Sundays owing to a devout congregation.
  • Newport, Rhode Island, USA being the music hub in New England on the east coast, lends itself to a conducive new age performance space. The Jazz Festival, Folk Festival and many more such attractions for travellers and locals alike bring the city together and at the same time generate large revenue for it.
    What Newport is missing is an indoor space that caters to the new age genres of music. Theatres catering to classical music are in abundance and almost all the music venues are outdoor restricting performances only to good weather. An indoor performance platform is welcome with an added touch of the churchs’ history and the presence of LaFarge’s art work.
    Bringing the church into focus for the city of Newport is the primary concern for this project. The murals and opalescent glass windows lend a mystical air to the performances as well as the practice rooms with the sounds reverberating through the church. Paying homage to the grand organ, the mobile panels retain the integrity of the nave while allowing for the music to be encased by the art and transform the volume as per the requirements of a daily sound and light show, performances and Sunday service. The seating and fabric ceiling are retractable making the space adaptable. The parish hall sustains the ancillary functions for the performers by being transformed into an event space and hostel.
  • Retractable acoustic panels that slide and rotate on tracks that can get concealed in the balcony railing, and open at the time of the performance above the pews/ seating.
  • Mobile partitions under the balconies offer opportunities to create spaces for practice rooms. The retractable partitions from the floor allow for encasing the audience and performance stage for better acoustic and sound performance.
  • The existing pews can be converted into retractable seating. At the time of a performance the seats as well as the stage cut out of the existing wood floor can be stepped to add to the viewing and listening experience for the audience and the performers.. 
    During service on Sundays the pews can come back down at floor level to allow the elder congregetion to attend church.
  • The church with the performance space intervention