Overture Center for the Arts

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Madison, Wisconsin, USA
388,000 square feet / 36,000 square meters

The Overture Center for the Arts is the result of a complex design challenge that unites nearly all of Madison’s arts organizations to a single place—a full city block with direct access to the community, the state capitol, and the University of Wisconsin. This vast undertaking comprised the renovation of two theaters, the expansion of an art museum, and the design of a major new theater.

The Overture Center of the Arts combines complex programming, historic preservation, and community connectivity for a diverse, multi-experiential hub for Madison, the University of Wisconsin, and the surrounding area.

The integration of existing venues and elements of historic buildings allowed the complex to maintain the inherent character of downtown, but still provide flexibility toward establishing a signature identity. The 1920s stone façade of the historic Yost’s Department Store was retained as an entrance to the entire Overture Center, linking the glass façades of Overture Hall and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Inside is a four-story rotunda with art galleries off the main lobby and an indoor amphitheater, called Rotunda Stage, on the lowest level. The lobby extends upward to an all-glass dome, increasing the complex’s visibility throughout downtown.

The two existing theaters—The Capitol Theater and The Playhouse—were substantially renovated. The Capitol Theater retains significant original details, including its Grand Barton Organ, ornate ceiling, wall niches, proscenium arch, and chandelier lighting. To create a more intimate 800-​seat venue, some seating was removed and replaced by a new lobby in the character of the original theater, providing theatergoers spaces to engage pre or post performances. The interior of the 350-​seat thrust theater known as The Playhouse, formerly Isthmus Playhouse, was almost entirely redesigned. Three flexible black box theaters were also designed and incorporated.

The Madison Art Center, renamed the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, was also expanded. Designed as a clear iconic form, the museum’s triangular four-​story glass lobby is a prismatic form visible along State Street, becoming a landmark for the city of Madison. The monumental scale of its glass stair recalls the traditional entrances of museums around the world.

The centerpiece of the project is Overture Hall, a crisp geometric exterior form of limestone and glass that extends inward to the grand lobby with light wood ceilings, limestone and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and travertine flooring create a warm and serene atmosphere. In the 2,251-seat auditorium, a cascade of softly lit balconies and an undulating acoustic ceiling subtly aid in the spirit of the performance.