Architect Marshall Strabala: Why I like the Center for Dance Best

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Architect Marshall Strabala has designed three of the ten tallest buildings in the world, but his current favorite is the six-story Center for Dance, the new home to the Houston Ballet. "I love the way it came out. It has a specific program to it. An office building is an office building, but a ballet studio is something very special," he tells us.

Strabala usually works on buildings that are two or three million square feet in size; scaling back to just six-stories required special considerations from the Harvard educated architect. "This building is the smallest one I've ever done and was the most challenging. I've done other performing arts centers, but this was at a different scale than I've ever had to work on before."

In order to know what he was going to design, he had to know who he was designing it for. "We had to learn about the Houston Ballet," he says. "Because the Houston Ballet is different from the San Francisco Ballet. There are idiosyncratic things about the Houston Ballet, the people who will be working here have different needs."

One of the priorities for Strabala was to design not only as a functional dance studio, but a building that would serve to advertise the ballet. "The big windows we have to the north, that's how we advertise the ballet to everyone coming in from I-10. You can actually see the dancers when you drive in to downtown."

The original plan included an atrium in the middle of the building, in part to make up for the loss of the green space around the Ballet's former home. Also, Houston Ballet dancers and staff members waned to be more connected, rather than seperated into different area of the building. "We wanted all the segments of the ballet to see each other every day, so that a staff, the dancers, the musicians, and wardrobe people walking down a hall could see a rehearsal in progress and get excited about the work coming up."

The atrium didn't make it to the final design. Instead Strabala used indoor windows that overlook the studios, giving people the ability to see a rehearsal in progress while they walk around the building, without disturbing the dancers.

Strabala, Mayor Annise Parker, members of the Houston Ballet and fans will celebrate the official opening of the Dance Center, 601 Preston, on Saturday. Members of the Houston Ballet II will be performing. Noon to 2 p.m. For information, visit www.houstonballet.org or call 713-227-2787. Admission is free.

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