Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Vassar College

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Poughkeepsie, New York, USA
54,000 square feet / 5,000 square meters

The Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film combines historic preservation with contemporary design to give two expanding academic departments a single home. The building incorporates the façade of Avery Hall, the longtime home of the Drama Department, into a unified teaching facility for theater and film.

The Avery façade was completely renovated and retains its Victorian appearance. Bricks and wood-framed windows of the 19th century building were replaced and the missing concave mansard roofs above its two towers recreated. The original entrance now opens to the lobby of the Martel Theater, the building’s primary performance space. The student entrance is on the new north façade.

The design of the new construction deliberately contrasts with the old facade to clearly mark the 140-year gap in their construction. The new construction is clad with dark and light gray ground-face concrete masonry units in a striped pattern inspired by the designs of Marcel Breuer, architect of the adjacent Ferry House. Two glass-enclosed stairways both connect and separate the old and new structures.

The Vogelstein Center’s mass balances the old façade of Avery Hall, while its contemporary character creates a clear tie to the modernist white brick Ferry House. Together, Ferry and the Center for Drama and Film define the Frances Daly Fergusson Quadrangle, designed by Balmori Associates as part of the project.

In the building are classrooms and seminar rooms for use by both departments as well as specialized workspaces for each discipline. There is a studio theater, design room, costume shops, dressing room, and a scene shop for theater and editing labs and a sound-proof studio for filmmaking. The 217-seat Rosenwald Film Theater, the main screening room, is equipped with surround sound and 35mm and digital projectors.

At the heart of the building is the 330-seat Martel Theater. The auditorium has a proscenium stage that can also be used as a thrust stage when the orchestra pit is covered. With a full-height flyloft, fully trappable floor, 1,600-square-foot scene shop and a parterre seating arrangement, the Martel has all of the amenities of a working theater needed for teaching. Handsomely appointed with maple wood paneling, the auditorium also has the refinement of a professional theater.