Completed in 1960, the Loeb Drama Center at 64 Brattle Street stands as one of Cambridge’s greatest examples of Modern Architecture. The structure is human-scaled, made of regional materials and is a sensitive addition to its residential and commercial neighbors along Brattle Street. The scale of the building was reduced to blend in with adjacent heights and the use of New England waterstruck brick is a nod to the Harvard and Radcliffe buildings nearby. Exposed concrete serves as a sort of frame to the delicate ornamental grille which provides a lace-like effect, enhanced further at night when the light from inside the building shines through.
Architect Hugh Stubbins wanted the theater to be architecturally exciting, while still serving as a backdrop to the purpose of the building, the arts. Stubbins was quoted as saying, “the auditorium should please the imagination in such a way as to release it, not captivate it” and later went on to reference examples of recent museums and art galleries erected by architects to overshadow the art within them.
The building opens right off the sidewalk of Brattle Street by the way of deep setbacks off the first floor, forming a porch-like or arcade feeling. The sides of the building open to a garden court on one side and a spacious terrace on the other. The travertine flooring in the lobby extends gracefully to the brick-paved courtyard, contained by a red brick serpentine wall.
The theater was unveiled as a mechanical marvel as the first fully-automatic and flexible theatre in the United States. The audience’s position in relation to the stage, along with the position and shape of the stage itself could be altered between three main configurations: theater-in-the-round, proscenium, and arena seating, all possibly during the same performance. Yale’s noted stage technician and theater design engineer, George C. Izenour worked with Stubbins to integrate lighting, rigging and staging into an automated and hydraulic lift system, which could be altered and staged by just two people in mere minutes.
The Loeb Drama Center is now home to The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, which collaborates with artists around the world to develop and create work in new ways. To learn more about A.R.T. and their upcoming shows and events, check out their website at: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/
Historic photos courtesy of Radcliffe College Archives and CHC slides.