The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and The Minnesota Opera were the two strongest sources of inspiration for the idea that became the Music Theater at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. The architect, Benjamin Thompson, was a native son of Saint Paul and brought his fullest commitment to achieve an extraordinary home for both organizations.

The Minnesota Opera began its life on the thrust stage of the old Guthrie Theatre and wanted the orchestra pit of this new venue to replicate that thrust stage with the orchestra performing beneath. They still enjoy performing in this mode.

The SPCO uses the space with a marvelous concert shell that glides into place on air-casters from a storage ‘garage’ upstage of the active stage. Most of the ceiling for the shell is carried on the structure, freeing the stagehouse rigging for the opera’s use.

A great deal of acoustic tuning control was designed into the space. Behind the randomly-shaped wood grillage members are absorptive panels that descend from behind the wainscot of the boxes above. The ceiling zone contains pivoting reflective elements that facilitate use of the thrust stage for events that require high clarity.

Patrons of the Ordway may notice the red diamond painted on the center of the ceiling. That gesture was Ben Thomson’s visible urging that a great chandelier was planned but not afforded in the initial budget for the project. Someday, that red diamond will turn to brilliant crystal

Project Details
Audiovisual Systems Design
Room Acoustics Design
Benjamin Thompson & Associates, Architect, Cambridge, MA
Auerbach + Associates, Theatre Consultant, San Francisco, CA
1,900-seat opera house; 320-seat studio theatre
St. Paul
1986 Minnesota Masonry Institute - Honor Award for Excellence in Masonry Design and Construction 1985 AIA Boston - 1st Honor Award Boston Exports Award Competition