Hancher continues its brilliant legacy of dance, music, and theater

Iowa City, IA, USA
Hancher has a striking exterior with sweeping horizontal forms inspired by the nearby Iowa River.

Hancher Auditorium is a premier regional performing arts center that connects the University of Iowa with its vibrant surrounding community. From a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Iowa River, the new building welcomes artists and audiences to an innovative 1,800-seat proscenium theater, a black box theater, a three-story lobby and atrium, café and gift shop, and state-of-art backstage facilities. Hancher Auditorium furthers the university’s mission to give students, faculty, and staff an inspiring environment to hone ideas and bring transformative artistic works into being.

proscenium seats
The original facility experienced heavy damage in the 2008 Iowa River flood. Now positioned well above the 500-year floodplain, Hancher is a warm and welcoming beacon that glows softly in the evenings.

A theatrical home for performances that inspire and connect communities

Hancher’s main performance space is a distinctive 1,800-seat proscenium theater with the capacity to host a diverse range of performances. The visible catwalks and rigging equipment are painted deep blue to recede from view. Glowing circles of LED lights are woven and suspended from the ceiling, a landscape of figures that appear to expand and rise out of the space. The effect is subtle but celebratory, reflecting the transformative experience of an evening at the theater.

A tapestry-like art installation by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui hangs from the lobby’s balcony. The piece, woven from thousands of shreds of colorful refuse, was commissioned specifically for Hancher. 
“The building’s curved glass and metal forms in concert with its transparency evoke a deep connection to the river and landscape and extend a welcoming invitation to the university and greater Iowa City community.” — Mitchell A. Hirsch, AIA, LEED AP
The spacious, light-filled rehearsal and event room is connected to the main structure by a grand gallery. The room’s transparent north wall opens to an intimate, outdoor amphitheater. 
Hancher’s costume shop is filled with natural light and has a gorgeous park view. 
On Hancher’s north side, stainless steel-clad volumes project over the stage door and loading area. 
Stacked cypress and steel levels create an uplifting first impression for audience members.
Hancher’s striking exterior is inspired by the Iowa River, including horizontal forms that embody the river’s curve. 

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: OPN Architects
  • Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
  • MEP: Alvine and Associates
  • Acoustician: Kirkegaard Associates
  • Theater Planner: Theatre Projects Consultants

Project Information

  • Location: Iowa City, Iowa, USA
  • Client: The University of Iowa
  • Size: 187,700 sq. ft. / 17,439 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2016
  • Certification: LEED Gold
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 2020, Architecture Merit Award, USITT
  • 2019, Project of the Year, AIA Connecticut Design Awards
  • 2019, Award of Excellence, AIA Connecticut Design Awards
  • 2018, American Architectural Award, The Chicago Athenaeum
  • 2017, Award of Excellence, International Association of Lighting Designers
  • Principal Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO