Hancher, The University of Iowa

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Iowa City, Iowa, USA
188,000 square feet / 17,000 square meters

Widely recognized for commissioning new works of dance and music, Hancher is a multidisciplinary performing arts center, reaching audiences throughout Iowa City, and beyond. Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the Iowa River, the auditorium is the new home for this renowned, internationally recognized institution.

Hancher continues The University of Iowa’s mission of offering students, faculty, and staff the best opportunities to hone new ideas for creation and artistic expression. Our design was conscious of both the needs of performers and back-of-house support, which resulted in a distinctive theater, flexible rehearsal room and teaching spaces, as well as a scene shop, and a costume shop.

With a striking exterior inspired by the nearby Iowa River, sweeping horizontal forms—commonly referred to as “ribbons”—emulate the river’s curve. The stacked gestures end at varying points, creating exaggerated overhangs for the main lobby and second-level terrace. Enveloping the layered forms is stainless steel shingle with a brushed satin finish and cypress wood soffits, lending a soft, inviting quality for theatergoers and visitors on the terrace.

The rehearsal room—connected to the main structure by a grand gallery—is a cubic form clad in light-colored masonry. This acoustically and theatrically flexible room can host a range of events, including receptions and experimental theater that utilize the glazed north wall that opens to an intimate, outdoor amphitheater.

The heart of Hancher is the main venue, an 1,800-seat proscenium theater for performances in music, theater, and dance. The ceiling is highlighted with LED-lined rings varying in size and incorporated into the catwalks and rigging systems for a seamless and unobtrusive accent to a performance. The balconies—with color-changing lights—mimic the curvature of the ceiling for a cohesive design.

Hancher features a highly efficient envelope and innovative sustainable design strategies, meeting The University of Iowa’s ambitious goal of a 30% energy cost reduction to acquire a LEED Gold rating.