The Alys Robinson Stephens Center is a tribute to creativity, but not just in the way you might expect. When UAB set out to build a performing arts center to serve its arts program and present visiting artists, the initial budget was not sufficient to achieve their ambitious goals for the size and quality of the project. The design response was to design a large building that met the client’s full program, build the shell of the full building, and gradually fit out the spaces inside, starting with the 1,330 seat concert hall and its lobby. The success of the concert hall helped UAB to raise the money to fit out the 450-seat proscenium theater, the 125-seat recital hall, the black box theater, and at long last the academic office spaces.
The concert hall is a modern variation of a classical shoebox hall. A single balcony sweeps down low over the aisle at the back of the main floor, maintaining a reach-out-and-touch sense of connection from balcony to stage despite the size of the hall. Side tiers step down from the balcony to a choral terrace wrapped around the stage. Painted split-face cmu walls helped to keep the room affordable and the sound warm. A coffered ceiling gives acoustic access to a painted-out volume in the catwalk zone, extending the reverberant volume of the room at minimal expense. The smaller spaces are straightforward and effective in their acoustic design. As the Stephens Center approaches its third decade, it remains loved and respected as one of the great performance venues in the Southeast.