Greg Mooney

Can wood swoop, swirl, tumble, and embrace?

About 19 miles of rift sawn oak strands now on permanent display at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga. flashes ‘Why not?’ with surprising flair and architectural distinction.

The sensuous, sinewy form of the Theatre’s Coca-Cola Stage defies whatever expectations many have of live theatre design. The 650-seat, $32 million renovation of the Tony Award-winning theatre demonstrates how a centuries-old wood steaming process can create a striking new theatre expression.

Audacious Vision
The curvy, undulating aesthetic required breakthrough laser scanning and projection to pull off the audacious look and performance-grade acoustics. The architectural vision belongs to Trahan Architects, led by founder Trey Trahan, FAIA, and partners Leigh Breslau, AIA, and Brad McWhirter, borrowing on the form-making ideas of celebrated furniture and design artist Matthias Pliessnig.

Fabrication 9-1-1
“Intimacy and envelopment drove our design,” says Breslau. “We wanted to wrap the audience in our arms and pull them together. The trick was how to make this affordable. Our budget was less than half of what initial estimates projected.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way … and the way ran through tiny Plaistow, N.H. and a fabrication company called CW Keller. “They never used the word ‘complicated’ in speaking with us,” recalls McWhirter. “They weren’t scared by the complex geometry.”

Rapid Payback
The confidence of the CW Keller team was rooted in extremes. At one end, the fabricator’s artisans understood wood bending. Their mastery of the ancient art could plasticize and form oak. But to what geometry? That task went to CW Keller’s engineers using modeling software, helping their counterparts on the shop floor precisely shape and install each strand within 1/32-inch tolerances.

Lasers scanners and projectors made by FARO were indispensable. Laser scanning allowed accurate documentation of as-built conditions in Atlanta. CW Keller president Shawn Keller estimates “If laser scanning could save us five field survey trips or change orders in the first 18 months, it’s paid for itself. That goal was met by a 10-fold factor.”

Virtual Templating
Laser projection allowed the assembly team in Atlanta to take fabricated oak panels and place them without reliance on measuring tape and plumb lines. The projector literally projects placement points on the theatre wall. Call it a virtual templating.

Trahan project lead and design architect, Robbie Eleazer likens the functionality to a spatial mold, eliminating the waste of registration rips, pallets, and plywood sections. “We work more responsibly with a level of digital honesty no one could argue with,” he says.

Owner-Friendly Value
Today the Alliance Theatre earns rave reviews from patrons and critics alike. The Atlanta Journal Constitution hails “the Coca-Cola Stage as an opulent home for its world-class theatre.”

The word opulent might make some project team members smile. Trahan partner Breslau knows why, “Theatre design consultants tell us the room looks like it cost more than twice our actual budget.

“Technology made that possible.”

For a comprehensive examination of Alliance Theatre design, fabrication, and assembly, visit