Case Study – Multi-Purpose Performance and Rehearsal Venue

MPPRV - View along Charlotte

multi-Purpose Performance and Rehearsal Venue

Infilling a Missing Link

WE LOVE THE ARTS HERE IN NORFOLK!!! For a city our size, we have become a magnet and unprecedented model for the importance and influence of the ARTS SCENE as a definition of our local culture. Our incredible collection of fine arts and performing arts organizations covers the spectrum. All are grounded in education and focus on blurring the boundaries of society. I guess you could say we are lucky, or would you say we are collectively smart and unified!?!

As the CULTURAL HUB for eastern Virginia, we are the home for the Virginia Arts Festival (VAF), Virginia Symphony Orchestra (VSO), and the Virginia Stage Company (VSC). Zooming in and focusing on the synergies of these three groups becomes the genesis of this Multi-Purpose Performance and Rehearsal Venue. These three groups are inseparable and feed off each other, acting as a true pillar to our identity. An introduction to each along with identification of their needs follows.

Norfolk's Cultural Champions

Virginia Arts Fesitval

Our VA Arts Festival attracts and brings talent from around the globe to our region each year to celebrate, in true immersion Festival style, the gamete of performing arts. Their headquarters is on the edge of our Cultural Campus across from the historic 10,000 seat SCOPE Arena and beloved 2,500 seat Chrysler Hall. Buried within their own building is a 200-seat capacity flat floor performance venue suited for small chamber and solo performances. The Festival organization taps into the pool of existing performance venues, over a dozen region wide, to find the most suitable styled venue for each performance. This careful pairing of artist to venue is critical for the overall success for the patrons and the performers experience. A dozen offerings may seem more than adequate at a glance, but when one looks into the nature of the seating arrangements, shape of the hall, size of the stage platform, overall acoustic offering and the supporting amplification technology, it becomes apparent very quickly how narrow the field of choice really is. Additionally, a 500-seat venue is non-existent and definitely a blind spot in need.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

One of Virginia’s most celebrated musical, educational, and entrepreneurial arts organizations, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 100th Anniversary season in 2020. Interesting enough, this group does not have a home base to rehearse or perform. This is not by design, but rather circumstance. They are nomadic throughout the region moving from venue to venue for rehearsal space hauling their instruments, stage equipment, and props each occurrence. The transition to a full 90-piece Symphony Orchestra displaced them from their original rehearsal space located in the two sub-stage levels of Chrysler Hall. Much time, energy, and financial resources are dedicated to these logistics. Additionally, their administrative arm remotely leases space in an office building in the downtown and are integrated throughout the region for outreach and music educational offerings.

Virginia Stage Company

Virginia Stage Company is Southeastern Virginia’s leading non-profit theatre and one of the country’s foremost regional theaters. Their mission is to enrich, educate, and entertain the region by creating and producing theatrical art of the highest quality through developing plays and musicals. The Virginia Stage Company productions are created on site and from the ground up – from costumes to choreography, sound to lighting – working with a mix of local artists and artisans as well as some of the leading actors, directors, and designers from around the country to produce world class theatre for our Hampton Roads audience. Special project rehearsal space is absent in their home and they too find themselves scattered about the city or region for spaces to fulfill their mission.

These organizations are loved and owned by the community they serve and so the energy for this project grew out of the donor’s idea to bring all three together under one roof for the purpose of building collaboration, seeking efficiencies, and sharing special space needs. Hence, a programming and visioning exercise was launched. 

Creating a Sense of Place

VIA engaged the Executive leadership and artist voice of all three in round-table forum discussions to help each assess common needs and reveal how they might image living and working together under one roof. For the first time, these groups were immersed in multiple discussions re-imagining what would be possible and how they would operate if they had adequate spaces to bolster their missions. 

A space needs program of 55,000 square feet emerged from these workshops to include:

    • Flexible, multi-purpose 500 seat venue for VAF performance and VSO rehearsal
      • Flat floor
      • Dimensionally sized to accommodate the VSO 90-piece layout for rehearsal
      • Black box capability
      • Retractable, hideaway seating
      • Space for stow-away stage, acoustic shells, banquet round tables and lose seating
    • Lobby Reception – to accommodate social gatherings and access to all educational support spaces
    • Multi-purpose room for VSC special projects and rehearsals
    • Donor VIP lounge
    • VSO road show equipment storage and loading
    • Catering
    • Administrative suites for both VSO + VSC with shared common space and board rooms


With the City offering available land, VIA was put to task to answer the question: What can be done on the vacant parcel adjacent to the Scope Plaza?  This open green space is the “missing tooth” in the quadrant of the last 50 years of urban renewal activity in downtown. The parcel is open and accessible by the public right of way on two sides and only 172 X 130 feet in dimension – approximately 22,360 SF footprint. Residing partially in the Coastal Resilience zoning and working with new stormwater management regulations all revealed driving factors in support of further detailed programming needs.


Organizing a 55,000SF program on a 22,360 SF site.

Accomplishing a seamless and transparent transition between the inside and outside became the planning tool of choice to guide this urban design challenge. The historic forms, materiality, and setting of Scope, The Plaza, and Chrysler Hall pay forward a fortified International style of architecture of heavy concrete and pre-cast forms.  

In contrast, this New Venue presents open arms to the passerby. It exposes the beauty and excitement of the rehearsal and performance activities in the large multi-purpose space for all the public to see and build curiosity. Fair weather days will allow the large performance space to be open air to the street for true block party festival style events. The ultimate goal is to actually step across the street and transform the bunker like Plaza wall into “STERRACES”. This is a way to breakdown its pedestrian urban barrier existence and transpose the same space into an outdoor amphitheater style seating for these special semi-outdoor open-air performances. The interior retractable seating is partially portable and can be deployed in 2 different directions on this flat floor space to support this idea.  Here the definition of “flexibility” is maximized.

Form + Material Innovation

The large glass retractable wall is the key engineering innovation of this façade. Elegant and sheltering, it will generate a curiosity and a moment of AWE all of its own for those that travel this Charlotte Street path in the downtown and for those that come to enjoy these special events. The overall plan captures an outdoor doughnut hole/lightwell in the middle of the building to allow for a roof garden accessible from the VIP lounge and to bring daylight into the administrative suite on the interior sides of the building. The public upper lobby and rooftop access stairs are both internal and external of the building and again bring an immediate awareness for the patron of how the building works. Seeing and being seen is an important objective in the planning of cultural facilities and here the patron has such a range of choices for where they choose this to occur.   

Differentiating the new modern facility crafted of innovative structural glass components and material technology from the adjacent 1970s International Style architecture adds to the richness of our authentic historic downtown and reveals the story of urban development patterns over time. This new performance/rehearsal space is expressed both inside and out completely contrasting its neighbors where these spaces are buried within. The same carries forward for the balcony design options and the collection of green roof balconies. 

Sense of Place + Completeness

When you visit this place, beginning with your approach, you will know that this is going to be a great experience and that this is where you belong; connected to our beautiful city!  You will feel an immediate excitement and want to discover every corner of the building – inside and out, but mostly, once you leave, you will want to tell your friends and plan your return very soon.