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Renovating The Bricks

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s proposed redesign for renovating the brick courtyard, known as The Bricks, received an enthusiastic reception from the audience at the third public meeting on the topic held at OSF’s Carpenter Hall on Thursday.

The courtyard, between the Angus Bowmer Theatre and the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, requires extensive upgrading to bring the space into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The redesign also would address the area’s steep slope, surface deterioration, pedestrian and vehicle loading accessibility, the configuration of visitor seating and viewing of the Green Show stage.

The proposal by Walker Macy, a landscape architecture design firm, and THA Architecture, both of Portland, emerged from onsite studies and from input from earlier public meetings attended by many of the approximately 75 people at Thursday's event.

Walker Macy principal Chelsea McCann presented details of the reconstruction design.

The courtyard’s surface would remain bricks, secured by mortar and stabilized by placement on a concrete slab. Rectangular blocks would create amphitheater-type seating fanning outward from the Bowmer Theatre’s wall and a sharply raked lawn would provide seating and improved sight lines to the Green Show stage.

The design flattens the existing problematic grades and cross-slopes and improves pedestrian accessibility from the street. It would minimize the steep slope next to the Bowmer Theatre with stairs, with a ramp allowing direct access to the handicapped seating level in the Bowmer.

The plan includes planting trees for additional shade, increasing the courtyard’s existing green space, improving lighting and adding signage. A bio-swale would be installed along the side of the Bowmer leading to Lithia Park to address water runoff from the courtyard.

“We wanted to keep the look of the bricks and a casual, family-friendly feel,” said Walker Macy principal J. Douglas Macy. “We also wanted to provide an interactive landscape for a wide range of activities.”

Under the proposal, the Green Show stage also would be realigned to compensate for the angle of the early evening sun and sound and lighting equipment wiring installed underground for easier and safer plug-ins.

Macy said the seating arrangement was planned to resemble a natural rock outcropping.

“We were looking for a playful solution to express the exuberance of the festival,” he said. “We wanted to give a sense of nature to the seating.”

Depending on the final budget, the rectangular blocks will be constructed from either granite from the Sacramento, Calif., area or from finished concrete aggregate. The seat-wall height will vary between 14 and 16 inches and will have no unsafe drop-offs. The plan also includes “skateboard prevention” measures.

The courtyard design would provide wider vehicle access for deliveries to the theaters and a new freight lift between the Bowmer and Elizabethan, hidden by a wall from The Bricks.

Jonah Cohen of THA presented the accompanying proposed modifications to OSF’s Bowmer Theatre. An elevator from the theater’s main lobby to the auditorium and balcony levels would be built to allow handicapped access from the main entrance. The remodel would also widen the second-floor hallway by changing the location of the present accessible restroom.

Comments from the audience suggested making restroom facilities near the courtyard available to Green Show attendees and moving a proposed vendor kiosk from the front of the Elizabethan to a less congested area.

Final architectural and technical decisions on the design will be made after further discussions with the festival and the city of Ashland. Construction by Ashland’s Adroit Construction Co. Inc. is expected to start in November, with the first phase completed in time for the festival’s February 2016 opening.

The Bricks remodel project received $500,000 preliminary funding from local residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod, part of the couple’s $1 million gift to the festival in April 2013. OSF plans a communitywide fundraising campaign for construction once the design and final budget are announced.

The design and construction firms were selected through a competitive bidding process. THA Architecture and Walker Macy previously designed OSF’s Thomas Theatre, courtyard and landscaping across Pioneer Street from The Bricks.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

An artist's conception of an aerial view shows the expected look of OSF's courtyard area, if a proposed redesign by Walker Macy and THA Architecture, both of Portland, is adopted. Illustration courtesy OSF