Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP's renovation of the Strand Theater resurrects the 100-year-old movie theater on San Francisco’s Market Street to provide a highly visible and experimental performance space for the city’s preeminent theater company, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.).
In addition to educational facilities, the redefined space houses a new 285-seat theater, stage support, a public lobby, a cafe, and a 120-seat black box theater and rehearsal space. The program is inserted within the shell of the former 725-seat cinema, overlaying essential modern theater elements on top of the raw backdrop of the original building.
The SOM design creates inspiring civic theater and dramatically opens the lobby and facade to the street and sidewalk, energizing both the building and the surrounding neighborhood. The Strand is strategically located between the city’s booming retail district and the Civic Center, in the midst of fast-growing tech and residential developments that have recently relocated to the area. The restored theater represents a key component in the regeneration of this once vital part of the city.
ARCHITECTURE + BRANDING: As part of the renovation, a graphic identity was developed for the Strand – one clearly identifiable as A.C.T., a 50-year-old institution, but tailored to reflect the new space and its mission. Focused on new work, emerging artists, arts education, and community outreach, the Strand’s identity had to convey the unadorned immediacy of experimental theater and reflect the gritty, transitional aspects of its surrounding neighborhood.
The stencil, a staple of backstage labeling, was used to express the direct, stripped-down simplicity of the Strand’s space and program. This theme was carried throughout the building’s environmental graphics and signage, including the exterior blade and canopy, interior wayfinding, and donor wall. Lettering and pictograms were painted directly on the walls, or cut into metal sheets to resemble industrial stencil sets.