DePaul Theatre School is a celebrated training ground for theatre artists

Chicago, IL, USA
Located on an active street, The Theatre School is a five-story building of limestone geometric shapes. A black-box theatre features a transparent wall that illuminates in various colors to accentuate the geometric facade.

Founded in 1925, DePaul Theatre School is a preeminent professional training program in the heart of Chicago. In the years prior to commissioning the new building, the program was housed in a former parochial school. While the facilities were not ideal, the eclectic spaces of the old elementary school helped fuel a deep sense of artistic community and do-it-yourself optimism. The new facility embodies DePaul’s revolutionary spirit, infusing its ethos of “controlled chaos” into an innovative conservatory building with a 250-seat thrust stage, 100-seat experimental black box theatre, rehearsal and classroom spaces, and studios for costumes, makeup, props, scenery, and lighting.

seat thrust theatre
In the spirit of the Theatre School’s old home, students can — and do — turn any part of the building into a stage, including the lobby of the thrust theatre.
productions each season
Seating 250 people, the thrust stage is an intimate and dynamic venue for student theatre artists to hone their craft. 
“As a longtime theatre designer, I have been part of many collaborative processes myself, and thus have some basis for stating that Pelli Clarke & Partners could not have been more collaborative, responsive, or creative. They are sophisticated and deep listeners. And they achieved our goals within all of our parameters and limitations.”  — John Culbert, Dean of the Theatre School, DePaul University 
The scene shop is on the first level with floor-to-ceiling windows that open to the bustling daily life on North Racine Avenue. 
Double-height glass curtain walls offer a glimpse into behind-the-scenes activities.

An inspiring view into a culture of artistic collaboration  

The Theatre School’s architecture is designed to foster connection among theatre artists and give the public an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of the performing arts. The black box theatre is positioned on the fourth floor with a transparent north wall that reveals a colorful, glowing stage reaching toward West Fullerton Avenue. The building is composed of limestone geometric shapes with vertical strips of glass that expose performance, classroom, and behind-the-scenes spaces. On each floor of the building, different disciplines and functions coexist side-by-side, fueling a culture of daily collaboration and creativity among diverse groups of students and faculty.

On the second level, a pedestrian bridge across the first floor connects performance and rehearsal spaces, and features a drawbridge so large scenery can pass underneath.  
Every performance lab is unique in shape and form so students and teachers can respond to each room’s distinctive characteristics. 
The costume shop is a unique maker space for student theatre artists. 
“Each aspect of the architecture embodies DePaul’s ethos of original thinking and collaboration, creating an iconic cultural gateway at the east end of campus and a dynamic view inside the daily creative chaos and rituals of making theatre.” — Mitchell A. Hirsch, AIA, LEED AP
The black box theatre’s dramatic windows can be incorporated as a scenic element or blacked out with curtains. 

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: Cannon Design
  • Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
  • MEP: WMA Consulting Engineers
  • Acoustician: Kirkegaard Associates
  • Theater Planner: Schuler Shook

Project Information

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Client: DePaul University
  • Size: 165,000 sq. ft. / 15,329 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2013
  • Certifications: LEED Gold
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 2014, Honorable Mention, AIA Connecticut
  • 2014, Merit Award, Owners’ Choice, Chicago Building Congress
  • 2014, Outstanding Design, American School & University, The Architectural Portfolio
  • 2015, Honor Award for Distinguished Building category, AIA Chicago
  • 2015, Honor Award, United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc.
  • Principal Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO