AUX Architecture Designs a Building That’s a Beacon of Light

The Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center expands from a synagogue and meeting space into a dynamic educational and performance venue in West Los Angeles.

The Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center at Vista del Mar Child and Family Services is located on a private campus with an ambitious public-facing agenda. Brian Wickersham, founding partner of AUX Architecture, led a design team that worked with the West Los Angeles educational and social services agency to design a venue that supports therapeutic arts programs and connects with broader dance and performance communities in Los Angeles.

Now standing, the new Glorya Kaufman PAC, which Wickersham describes as “a glowing center of campus,” expands the original 1965 building that had long served as a catch-all meeting space, cafeteria, and synagogue into a striking 10,550-square-foot complex. (AUX also worked with the client on improvements to its HOME Safe Early Head Start facility on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.) A 299-seat multifunctional theater occupies the preexisting core, with new classrooms, rehearsal spaces and various related amenities organized around the original volume. Highlighting the benefits of the new spatial arrangement, artistic director Sara Silkin explains that offering “a home for L.A. choreographers and L.A. artists” is part of her mission, given how challenging it can be to find quality rehearsal spaces for professionals, especially those who are unaffiliated with dance companies.

The building is distinctive in the context of Vista del Mar’s 18-acre home base in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood, and contains a range of functions, from residential programs for teens with special needs to adoption services. The center’s low-slung, horizontal yet kinetic massing and materials serve as a translucent beacon of light and movement, echoing the vibrant activity that takes place within its walls. Wickersham had considered using channeled glass for the facade, which proved to be prohibitively expensive. Instead, polycarbonate panels checked all the right boxes, since the material is “lightweight and economical,” he says, and allows for optimal filtered light conditions. (It’s also entirely recyclable and made of 30 percent recycled content.)

exterior stairway and circulation
Kinetic massing and subtle striation on the facade lend a sense of rhythm to the Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center’s new building. The renovation’s construction was led by Shawmut Design and Construction.

The concept of rhythm is integrated into the architecture and engineering, too. Structural columns located behind the facade and architectural columns were strategically placed to make “a pattern that creates a gradient. It was a really low-tech way to achieve what we were trying to do,” Wickersham explains. Kaufman’s philanthropy focuses on dance, so details reveal a dedication to the discipline; the main rehearsal room floor, for instance, is designed to be optimal for dancers, and the size and scale of the space mimics that of the primary stage above.

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Given the sloping lot, attendees enter the lobby from the side street located on the east side of the PAC. Students, dancers and other users approach from the entrance that faces Vista del Mar’s main campus drive at the lower level. The stark white exterior and most of the interior spaces are a neutral white to help act as a blank slate for physical and visual activations, and the wide main lobby doors encourage an indoor/outdoor flow for receptions and gatherings. Restored stained glass panels repurposed from the original synagogue help convey the story of the institution and site, while adding color and dimension. The dark theater interior and its warm textural elements make for both an ideal state-of-the-art and intimate venue—Silkin tested each chair to personally vouch for the fact that there’s not a bad seat in the house—with wooden acoustic components that reiterate the motif of the project’s visual, emotional and functional flows.

Theater interior
A dance theater is the centerpiece of the new Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center at Vista del Mar Child and Family Services.

Silkin’s partnerships with local talent such as dancer and choreographer Mike Tyus, who has a large social media audience on his own and as part of Jacob Jonas the Company, have already yielded compelling commissions. Tyus collaborated with fellow dancer Joy Isabella Brown, using the building stairwell as a stage, and helping inaugurate the PAC in part by sharing performances via Instagram, since the pandemic has delayed a larger-scale official launch. The element of surprise revealed in these performances thrills Wickersham.

After a project is completed, “the best thing that can happen to you as an architect is when people go in and use it in a completely different way,” he says. “That’s so exciting.”

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