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Portland Playhouse by SERA Architects

Since 2008, Portland Playhouse had been operating out of a historic, 1904-era church in the King neighborhood of Portland, making-do with sofa seating and make-shift solutions in a building long-in-need of updates. “In the early days of the Portland Playhouse, renovations were DIY,” notes the firm.

Designed by SERA Architects

Photographed by Pete Eckert

Opportunity arose in 2012 when the city officially granted use of the structure as a theater. With a secure home in hand, the Playhouse undertook a plan to transform the outdated building into a fully dedicated theater. SERA partnered with the Playhouse on a multi-phased project that identified programmatic requirements, functional needs, aesthetic preferences, and growth strategies for the organization. The results of that planning included a substantial renovation of the former church building, the addition of a 1,500-square-foot dedicated rehearsal and community space, and concept design for an outdoor component to be added at a later date.

Phase one of the transformation began by overhauling the 6,500-square-foot historic structure’s systems, including electrical and HVAC. The rabbit-warren of spaces was opened up to make better connections to backstage areas while the public-facing lobby was refreshed with a new ticket office, concession area, and gender-neutral bathrooms, the first to be officially approved by the state of Oregon. The primary performance space is designed as a black box theater, enabling the artists to configure the stage and seating as desired (seating capacity is 90). The existing baptismal was removed and a new wall with an entry/exit was added. The original wood floor was resurfaced. The back half of the building includes a studio for set construction. Daylight was introduced into the previously dark basement to house offices, dressing rooms, a green room, kitchen, and a communal gathering area. A mix of open, flex-space office nooks and a closed conference room topped with relites permits light to circulate throughout the basement.