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Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

LMN Architects, Marmon Mok

Project Name

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

Project Status



157,000 sq. feet



San Antonio prides itself on its traditional spaces. One of those, the 1926 Municipal Auditorium, is undergoing a renovation that will reorient the theater. When the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts opens in 2014, it will retain the building’s historic stone façade yet also open on to the River Walk.

“The formal stone façade [of the Municipal Auditorium] is oriented to face right into the urban street grid,” says Mark Reddington, FAIA, partner at LMN Architects. “On the back side, there’s a loading dock and blank walls. Then along came the River Walk. Now you have one amenity meeting a cultural landmark on its backside, and there’s no relationship between the two.”

Reddington says that LMN’s renovation will preserve 70 percent of the existing façade and associated arcades. But the existing core and auditorium will be demolished and replaced in the new 157,000-square-foot facility. The core elements are not partial to the original 1926 design; they were built after a fire gutted the auditorium in 1979.

The new performance hall is wrapped in a metallic veil, a counterpoint to the sturdy stone of the surrounding component. The surface quality of the punched metal veil will be lacy, airy, and porous, Reddington says.

“The historic stone façade is very powerful, and we did not want to preserve a thin façade,” he says, explaining that the renovation retains the public arcade spaces abutting the stone exterior. “The new piece [the veil] has a similar color, but the way the veil and the faÇade will take the light will be completely different.”

The most dramatic departure for the new Tobin Center may be its new face along the River Walk. LMN Architects introduced a studio theater space that overlooks the promenade, while a new lobby and River Walk Plaza will greet entrants directly. The tall profile of the performing arts core will also change the character of the Museum Reach portion of the River Walk.

For the performing arts stage itself, LMN Architects is planning a modular stage design, one that can transform between orchestra seating and smooth floor with the push of a button.

Project Description

Combining one of San Antonio’s most beloved architectural icons with advanced technology to create one of the most flexible multi-purpose performance halls in the United States, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts embraces the multi-faceted cultural identity of the city. Drawing inspiration from San Antonio’s rich vernacular of color, pattern and public celebration—the new performing arts center offers a diverse architectural experience capable of continuous transformation in response to programmatic and environmental influences.

The aspirations for the renovation/expansion project were threefold: to create a large, flexible-floor, multi-use performance space with acoustics comparable to the world’s finest concert halls; to maintain the historic entrance and arcade of the Spanish Colonial-style building for future generations; and to create a vibrant connection between the city’s main cultural venue and the River Walk.

While retaining the Municipal Auditorium’s treasured historic façade, the Tobin Center weaves a new 183,000-square foot facility into the framework of the historic architecture—including a 1,768-seat main performance hall, and a 231-seat studio theater. These spaces can rapidly change seating and stage geometry, lighting, color and acoustics to suit the unique qualities and objectives of each performance. Large-scale customized systems in the performance hall create virtually endless possibilities in room configuration and visual expression—in effect giving the city many venues in one and providing local arts groups with unlimited possibilities to attract new audiences with innovative programming.

LMN Tech Studio
The metallic veil that enwraps the program volumes creates a distinctive presence on the San Antonio skyline, changing in appearance with different patterns of daylight and coming alive at night with programmable LEDs. While the veil was not originally designed with a parametric model, the LMN Tech Studio was asked to re-model the system parametrically in order to facilitate continual adjustments to the geometry during the detailing process. Using the power of parametrics to establish mathematical rules governing the form and construction of the system, the project team could make continuous modifications at a high level and let the software re-draw the details of the resulting panel configurations. This resulted in the ability to provide instant material takeoffs and cost estimates for each proposed modification.

The opportunity to create a multiple-story feature wall in the Grand Lobby also drew on the LMN Tech Studio’s modeling and fabrication expertise. The wall follows the compound curvature of the performance hall, swelling outward as it rises from the lobby floor. A sequence of 15 unique panel types interlock across the surface to create a progressively shifting surface texture, reminiscent of both the flow of the San Antonio River and the deep regional culture of patterned tile work. The team used parametric modeling to sculpt the wall at 3 scales: the overall shape, the breakdown of the curved surface into panels, and the articulation of each panel to produce the overall texture. The resulting 3D models of the panels were used to create plaster molds for study, and then sent directly to the fabricator to generate full-scale mockups.

A detailed exploration of the LMN Tech Studio’s technical process on the Tobin Center is available on the LMN Tech Studio Blog.
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