A fugue in music involves multiple intertwined voices moving towards and away from each other, which seems an apt way to describe our approach to the design of a new headquarters for Community MusicWorks. Nationally celebrated, (CMW) is centered on building connections with and between members of the community, and offering a cohesive educational and performance experience for residents of the Providence area, especially underserved families and neighborhoods.

CMW programming-needs are paradoxical. On the one hand CMW sees itself as the source, base, force for underserved members of the community: drawing students, their families, and audiences of the performing quartets to come together around a community of music. On the other hand, CMW has a tradition of dispersal: itinerant teaching, learning and performing, characterized by going to where it’s most needed. The ethos of consolidation and dispersal is a key part of CMW’s strong neighborhood connections and is regarded as essential to CMW’s future.

The spatial organization of this design gathers, intertwines, consolidates and disperses the many voices of CMW. The centrifugal motion sends the organization out into the community and the centripetal motion gathers the underserved community of students, neighborhood families and music lovers in. The open section of this whirlpool of circulation surrounding the concert hall core is ripe for impromptu performance. Ramps and generous landings spatially intersect the semi-public restaurant and lounge on the ground level, the foyer of the concert hall and the individual practice pods, classrooms and media lab above. There’s a potential for all kinds of performance, from the carefully choreographed and acoustically controlled hall, to the collective performance emanating from the musicians’ personal spaces to the haphazard encounters of the spaces in between. The adaptability of CMW to the many spaces that the community so far has offered (churches, community centers, classrooms, gymnasiums) is in their DNA. It has fed their vitality, creativity, exposure and inclusion of the people they serve. This design is made from this idea of varied creative performing and inclusion.

Sebastian Ruth, the founder of Community MusicWorks (CMW) envisioned the concert space of the new CMW as “a hall that’s dark and needs to be filled with music,” a void that elevates the expectations of the students and community through formal performance. The proposed design moves towards and away from the force of this central void, towards and always from formality and improvisational spirit.

The concert hall is conceived of as an uncompromised space, one which honors music and musicianship of all performers including students. The slightly canted wood clad sides of the performance hall set it apart, a space breathing in and out simultaneously. These canted elements extend past the hall becoming the organizing geometry of the building, architecturally expressed as pin wheeling structural walls.

On the ground floor, a large community café space fronts the commercial street side, encouraging the life of the street and neighborhood connections. The café space is a mixer, where parents, students, performers, audiences, and neighbors can make themselves at home and on special occasions hold community dinners, something of a tradition at CMW.
The concert hall floats between floors and above the ground, a catalyst for a large encircling landscape ramp system and strong spatial connections between the ground and second level. The foyer of the concert hall is integral to the ramp system, which itself is conceived as a social catalyst encouraging movement, interaction and spontaneous activity between levels, students, audiences and performers. The ramp system and surrounding informal spaces include open lounges and “hangout” space outside of classrooms and practice rooms, to foster the essential connections and community building that CMW is founded on.

The circulatory system and informal spaces mediate between the alignment of the concert hall and the street edges, which order the classrooms and support spaces. Gaps between geometries become void spaces, and skylights, allowing for light and view.

While transparency is an appropriate goal for how CMW wants to be seen in the neighborhood, this needs to be balanced with the more privacy oriented (opaque) residential context. The envelope of the new building has its degree of transparency calibrated using a commercial FRP panel system. The unit sizes are small 1’x2’ allowing the façade and its transparency/translucency to be programmed as a kind of animated field revealing the activity of music inside. The rear of the building, bordering a residential area, is made of CMU and a vertical green planted wall supported by a 1’x2’ stainless steel wire mesh. This wall wraps around part of the side of the building, as a backdrop to a new vest-pocket performance/sitting park, a connective amenity for the neighborhood and CMW.
The main entry to CMW is direct and sheltered, an inviting proscenium threshold for audiences on their way to a performance, students going to classes or practice, teachers, musicians, parents and friends; a single entry for all, an invitation to enter, ascend watch, listen and perform, to cohere and build connections with and between the community.