Stone trimmings enhance theater design

The quality of theater and music at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ, dramatically climbed to a new level with the opening of the Alexander Kasser Theater in October 2004. And the incorporation of natural stone furnishings and outdoor paving provided the finishing touch to the building's Mission-style design.

“Basically, the University wanted to build a multipurpose/performing arts center to join its existing amphitheater that is about 70 years old,” said Project Designer Weichi Chen, AIA, of Hillier Architecture in Princeton, NJ. “They wanted to restore and modernize the amphitheater. That was the initial goal. They also wanted it to be acoustically superior.”

The designer went on to explain that the University had mandated the Mission-style design. “When [the school] was first started in 1908, they built four or five Mission-style buildings,” said Chen. “That became the symbol of the University. When the new president came on board, she wanted to keep that style.”

Irregular variegated Bluestone was used for paving to create a plaza stage in front of the amphitheater, further keeping with the existing architecture on campus. This area houses the newly renovated stone amphitheater, which was originally built in the 1930s by the Federal Works Projects Administration. Additionally, a new outdoor stage was constructed, and seating for 2,000 was created, as well as updated lighting and sound capabilities.

“There is some existing Bluestone nearby -- like a path,” said the designer. “The original amphitheater stage was grass. The University wanted something more permanent. We suggested stone. It is more natural, and in an outdoor setting, it is more appropriate. The color is neutral, yet stands out in the surroundings of the green, but not too much.”

The Bluestone pieces, which were installed by Stonetown Construction Corp. of Oakland, NJ, ranged in size from 12 inches to 3 feet. The material was quarried in New York State and supplied by Braen Supply of Haledon, NJ.

All of the stone pieces were cut and chiseled on site, according to Bob LaNeve of Stonetown Construction Corp. “[The architect] gave us a drawing of the area, and then our masons handcrafted all of the pieces,” he said. Chen admitted that he was initially worried about the installation, but was very pleased with the results.

“The biggest challenge was to match [the pieces] with the Old World style of the original stone,” said LaNeve. “We wanted to make it so it didn't look new. We cut every piece and chiseled around the edges to make it appear as if it is old.”

In total, a crew of four worked on the project, which took about three weeks to complete. The Bluestone pieces were cemented onto a concrete base and placed in a setting bed of cement. Tight joints were made and filled with concrete, according to LaNeve. “Again, we were trying to match the old stone,” he said.

Stone furnishings

Inside the new Alexander Kasser Theater, three granite benches adorn the lobby. “Because the benches are inside the theater, I wanted them to look almost luxurious,” said Chen. “The theater sometimes has festivals. I wanted to create a feeling of a party.”

According to the designer, the University was involved in choosing the material for the benches. “They wanted something heavy and indestructible,” said Chen. “I said, 'That's granite.'” The bases of the benches are fabricated from Black Rhapsody granite with a flamed finish, while polished ADA Red granite was used for the seats. Chen explained that a color enhancer was also used for the base. Natural Stones of Wilmington, DE, supplied the granite.

“For the benches, I chose contrasting colors,” said the designer. “The floor of the lobby is terra-cotta tile. The granite is much richer than the tile. Also, I wanted to increase the contrast between the two granites. The red/orange granite was polished for a rich look, and the black was flamed to create a dark gray color. I wanted to increase the contrast in the texture as well.”

Chen said that there is a sculpture in the lobby that was given by a donor. “It is made by Marini, an Italian sculptor, and it is made of stone,” he said. “It looks like black granite. It has this chiseled texture that the sculptor put in. I wanted that same feeling extended to the benches.”

Officials at Montclair State University were very pleased with the final construction of the Alexander Kasser Theater. “When the theater was almost done, the University was happily surprised with the quality building that they were getting,” said Chen. “They hired a new director, and started a new program that is very impressive -- competing with theaters in New York City. They have created their own niche.”

Construction of the new structure began in October 2002 and finished in August 2004. In addition to the performance space, the theater also includes a 6,300-square-foot art gallery and the Henry Partch Institute, whose unique musical instruments are available for use by University students.

End box

Alexander Kasser Theater
Montclair State University
Montclair, NJ

Architect: Hillier Architecture, Princeton, NJ
Stone Suppliers: Braen Supply, Haledon, NJ (Bluestone); Natural Stones, Wilmington, DE (granite)
Stone Installer: Stonetown Construction Corp., Oakland, NJ

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