When we think of super cutting-edge design, we think of New York City or London, not Rockford, Illinois! But with their origami-shaped Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theatre, Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects has proven that you don't have to go to the big city to see incredible architecture. Completed in 2003, this project is an oldie but a goodie worth revisiting, not only because it's just so doggone beautiful, but because it demonstrates what can be done on a limited budget.
Rock Valley College commissioned the project to be completed piecemeal over three years because they simply didn’t have the funds to do it all at once. The original theatre had to be shut down in inclement weather, but nobody wanted to lose the feeling of watching great performances outdoors.
Incorporating a retractable roof into the new theatre allowed the architects to keep the sense of openness during sunny weather, while the elegant petal-like roof panels that fold into one another ensure that the show can go on when it rains. Most of the framing was done in wood and steel (both of which Illinois has in relative abundance) and the proscenium is clad in copper. Now a decade after its completion we probably have a much more stringent rubric for a building of this scale, but for its time, we think it’s pretty special.
images © Greg Murphy