Putting New Spring in Evergreen’s Step

By John McLain

Renovations liven up the Communications Building for future generations of performing and media artists.

  • Recital hall
  • Com building after renovation
  • Students perform in one of the dance halls
  • Com building after renovation 2
  • “Bodies and Music in Motion” rehearsal
  • Drawing tables
  • Com building after renovation 3
  • Piano recital

Faculty member Andrew Buchman ’77 remembers looking into the windows of the Communications Building—or Com Building as it’s known on campus—when it was first under construction, imagining the possibilities for a facility that would open just as he was completing his BA at Evergreen.

Little did he know then that he would return as a faculty member in 1986 and spend his entire professional career there

“It’s always been an exciting place,” he said of the 37-year-old structure where students over the decades have learned Orissi dance, edited films on an avocado-green Moviola, made LPs and CDs, heard Chinese opera and symphony concerts, produced their own and watched others’ theatrical productions, and much more.

The home of all this fabulous activity has its quirks and inconveniences, Buchman admits, but it just got a whole lot better—thanks to a two-year, $11-million renovation. Buchman, his faculty colleagues and their students in performing and media arts celebrated the building’s reopening last fall. Renovations liven up the Communications Building for future generations of performing and media artists. Several new performance spaces top Buchman’s list of improvements.

There’s Com 209, a large dance studio with a sprung hardwood floor and flexible seating for performances. “We’ve never had a space of that quality for dance before,” Buchman said. “When you go in there, you know you’re going to dance at a high level.”

The choral rehearsal room gained more usable floor space from the removal of steep raked seating and the addition of a concrete floor suitable for Orissi dance. The third floor boasts four new teaching spaces. Two are large media classrooms. Two are fully outfitted theater rehearsal rooms. “You can go in those rooms and rehearse a play, mock up a set, experiment with lighting, work on a character,” said Buchman. “You have a sense of being on a stage, but you’re still in a safe rehearsal space where you can make things better.” There’s also a new screening room with 50 cushy seats for students to present their films.

The 200-seat Recital Hall got a full acoustic and aesthetic makeover. Stage and backstage improvements will make it easier to put on more complex productions. Creamy gold curtains and rich reupholstered magenta seats have replaced the old browns and grays. And “you can hear a pin drop,” Buchman said. “You really can!” Lighting has been upgraded throughout, including LED stage lights that reduce energy costs and keep temperatures down for performers.

Shannon Stewart, Evergreen’s performing arts operations manager, is especially happy about a late project modification: new entries for the Recital Hall and Experimental Theater (ET). Before, nothing marked these venues but steel doors with painted block letters. “After it was all said and done,” Stewart said, “we had this lovely new modern-looking recital hall inside, and an equally nice ET, but when you got to them they looked like closet doors. It didn’t provide much of a grand entrance.” Now, rectangular prisms painted a deep gold with elegant silver lettered signs extend over the entry areas and create large, welcoming spaces. “The color and the design let you know that you’ve arrived. It’s classy.”

In fact, as Buchman said, the building has a lot more “pretty.” Curved laminated wood lines the atrium walls. Glass display cases abound. Overhead panel lights present a pillowed ceiling scape reminiscent of Frank Gehry. Carpets lie where brick tiles once prevailed. And it’s much brighter. The overall impact significantly softens the concrete “Brutalism” of the original structure.

At 121,000 square feet, the Com building always had a reputation for being a bit of a maze. “Now you walk in and there’s clear signage,” Buchman said. “You know which way to go and have a good idea of how many different kinds of spaces we have.” Traffic flow has been improved, especially on the third floor.

Buchman concedes that the renovation didn’t solve all the building’s navigational challenges. “But it’s a big building,” he said, “bigger than it looks, and there are a lot of different spaces here that are really working well to support our curriculum. It’s worth taking the time to explore.” He’s also still holding out hope for a rooftop espresso café, he said with a wry smile—that is, if he can get the campus safety committee to go along.

Perhaps best of all for Buchman, a composer, is that new second-floor music practice rooms open to the big atrium at the front. “I love that you can walk into the Com Building and immediately hear music.” What better invitation does anyone need to come in for a look… or a listen?