The new Hancher Auditorium, replacing the flood-damaged facility, serves as the largest performance space for the music, theater, and dance programs at the University of Iowa, while also providing the community of Iowa City with a first-class venue for touring performances. The 1,800-seat multi-purpose hall is complemented by costume and scene shops, an expansive lobby with cafe, a recording room, and a 200-seat flexible rehearsal/performance room. The building is a highly visible landmark, its balconies offering beautiful views to the Iowa River. The main hall was specifically designed to be excellent for natural sound–warm, articulate, and exciting for symphony, chorus, opera, and chamber music—as well as for amplified performers–Broadway, popular music, comedians, and dance. The theater is so well isolated acoustically that performances can go forward with confidence even when the frat houses across the river are in full party mode.

For decades, Hancher Auditorium has been both the largest performance space for the University of Iowa and the premier civic performing arts center for southeast Iowa. Over the years, it has presented a varied and ambitious slate of artists, including major orchestras and Broadway tours, with particular emphasis on modern dance.

After the 2008 flood severely damaged the building, FEMA determined that it should be replaced with a new, comparable facility on higher ground. The new building is stunning, both visually and acoustically. To serve the full range of uses without compromise, the theater has a full flytower and a movable orchestra shell whose four settings accommodate any size of ensemble.

Extensive acoustic curtains are carefully located to provide maximum clarity for amplified events. Unique motorized “bass traps” in the upper corners of the hall can be deployed to ensure a clean bass for amplified shows. Heavy concrete walls and a structural isolation joint around the audience chamber and stagehouse maintain a pristinely quiet condition for performances, regardless of the nearby frat house’s outdoor parties or set-building activity in the backstage scene shop.

Below the hall, a fully-isolated audio recording room captures performances in the hall and allows the School of Music to edit recordings. A large multi-purpose room can be set up for all manner of rehearsals or smaller performances. Movable curtains and motorized banners allow the rehearsal room’s acoustic to adjust to a range of uses, while a sprung floor for dancers and a tension wire theatrical grid further extend its functionality.

Large outdoor performances are held on Hancher’s lawn between the theater and the river. Smaller outdoor performances can take place on a stage with a raked seating bowl outside the rehearsal room.

The lobby, with its dramatic overhangs and outdoor terraces, includes a cafe that draws people to the building throughout the day. The lobby’s acoustics are controlled but moderately live–a pleasant place to hear an informal performance and exciting but not overwhelming when filled with intermission audiences.

Project Details
Mechanical Noise Control
Room Acoustics Design
Sound Isolation
OPN Architects, Cedar Rapids, IA, Architect of Record
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, New Haven, CT, Design Architect
Theatre Projects Consultants, South Norwalk, CT, Theatre Consultants
209,000 gsf
1,800-seat multi-purpose hall
Iowa City
LEED Silver Certification 2018 American Architectural Award from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies