A Brief History-
Home to performances great and small, from local concerts to touring Broadway shows, the iconic ASU Gammage theater has been a cornerstone of Phoenician culture for more than half a century.
It began back in 1957 as the dream of then Arizona State University President, Grady Gammage, who commissioned his close friend and famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to assist with the design. Together they envisioned a grand coliseum-like structure with two pedestrian bridges extending on either side to welcome visitors. It took years of planning and construction, but in 1964 the 3,000-seat theater opened its doors to a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Since then, ASU Gammage has played host to hundreds of Broadway and celebrity performances. But despite the building’s timeless beauty and the popularity of its productions, a lot has changed in the past fifty years. And as our society has evolved, so too have the needs of the theater’s patrons.
Plans for Remodel-
By the time the ASU Gammage celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, there were two chief complaints among visitors. The culture of the 1960’s meant that the building was originally designed with 40 restroom facilities for men, but only 25 for women. This led to extremely long lines during intermission, which could cost audience members their view of the second half’s opening act. The theater was also completed long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, so the original layout did not include accommodations for those with differing physical abilities. Even after some initial structural modifications, there were only a few areas of the building which could be accessed by ramp or elevator.
In order to help the performing arts center continue to serve its function as a part of the community, it needed an upgrade.
So as part of the 50th Anniversary Golden Gammage Initiative, ASU teamed up with architects and designers, members of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, and many other local companies to help make the building more accessible.
“We are grateful to all of the supporters who have shared our vision on this project,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and vice president of cultural affairs for ASU. “Based on the extraordinary support and ticket sales the last few years, we’re able to turn this into a reality.”
The $9 million expansion project, dubbed “Elevate & Alleviate”, was primarily funded through donations from members of the community and the university itself. The major challenge for all parties involved came from the desire to preserve the building’s unique architectural style, while blending in new elements of convenience and functionality.
Plans were drawn up for the addition of 88 new bathroom stalls, and two brand new external elevator towers, providing direct access to all floors and seating areas. Renovations were also slated to include a revamp of the theater’s sound system, and the addition of new low voltage lighting.
When Inspired LED was approached by Core Construction contractors to assist with the Gammage project in 2016, resident lighting designer Grant Wilkes was eager to take up the challenge.
“I worked closely with project managers to select environmentally friendly lighting solutions for the new restrooms, hallways, and architectural accents.” Wilkes explained.
Inspired LED’s new Insight Series Can Lights were selected to make their debut as a low-voltage task light, while 24V Warm White Flexible LED Strips were used to accent ceiling coves and bathroom mirrors.
“These products were chosen not only for their brightness and quality, but also for their efficiency, and ability to be easily controlled using a Lutron dimming system.”
Wilkes spent several months developing layouts, meeting with designers, troubleshooting and making adjustments. By the summer of 2016, Inspired LED’s order processing and manufacturing teams were hard at work preparing products for installation.
Of course, as with any large project, there were a few obstacles to overcome along the way.
Perhaps the biggest challenge came just a few days before the project was due to be completed, as Wilkes explains:
“We were struggling to reach our target foot candle requirement using strictly indirect light in the bathroom hallway entrances. The LEDs were housed in soffits lining one side of each long narrow hallway, and due to the positioning we simply weren’t getting the output we needed. Issues like soffit depth, available mounting space, driver limitations, and closed walls meant that we didn’t have the option of replacing the lights with a brighter model. So to rectify the situation, we developed a 45 degree extrusion to orient the LEDs at an angle, refracting light off the walls into the walkway. Within just two days we managed to design, extrude, and deliver a solution.”
At last, the project was complete. The ribbon cutting ceremony was held March 14, 2017- just prior to the opening night of Broadway’s “Finding Neverland”.
Public reaction to the remodel was overwhelmingly positive. Both locals and out-of-towners, long time patrons, and first time visitors responded with enthusiasm. The theater is now more accessible than ever, welcoming theater-lovers of all ages, genders, and abilities. Restroom lines have been greatly reduced, and the design blends in seamlessly with the art-deco style of the rest of the building. The in-wall lighting around the new restroom mirrors is said to be among the most popular changes.
All of us here at Inspired LED were thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to our local community, as well as to collaborate with our partners at ASU and Core Construction. It was an honor to play a role in breathing new life back into this iconic building, and we look forward to seeing it thrive for another 50 years!
For more information on Inspired LED products, visit our website or check out our online catalog. To learn more about custom lighting solutions for commercial or OEM applications, contact our expert Design Team via email, or by filling out a design request form here.