Beyer Blinder Belle Restores The Original Home Of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club


      Photo credit: John Bartelstone Photography

New York, NY (February 13, 2023) – Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners has renovated and restored the original home of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, creating a state-of-the-art theater experience with expanded amenities and technology, while preserving the historic character of a cherished venue.

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, an off-off-Broadway theater founded in 1961 by African American theater producer and director Ellen Stewart as a haven for experimental work by underrepresented artists, moved into its first permanent home at 74 East 4th Street in Manhattan’s East Village in 1969. A designated New York City landmark, the building had been long associated with the performing arts—it was constructed in 1873 for the German-American orchestral society Aschenbroedel Verein and was later occupied by the Gesangverein Schillerbund singing society, among other uses—but after nearly 50 years since Stewart saved it from demolition was in need of significant improvements.

In 2015, La MaMa commissioned Beyer Blinder Belle—working with theater consultant Jean Guy Lecat and theater and acoustic consultant Charcoalblue—to reimagine and invigorate their original home to better support their growing international profile as a world-renowned cultural institution. Together, the team reconfigured the main performance venue, added a new theater workshop and event space, improved patron and performer support areas, brought the building up to code, and restored the historic facade.

The primary intervention was the lowering of the first-floor ceiling—to expand the height of the second-floor performance venue above—and the reclamation of the ground floor for an expanded, ADA-accessible lobby, new all-gender bathrooms, and a greatly enlarged dressing room. The lobby doubles as an event or prefunction space or informal performance venue, with a small pantry to support food and beverage service. To improve visual connections between the lobby and passersby on the street and sidewalk—and return the building to its historic 1880s appearance—a new glass-and-aluminum storefront with restored cast-iron pilasters reveals the interior to the public for the first time in decades.

On the second floor, the primary performance space, The Club, is a revitalized, highly flexible venue with up to 118 seats and state-of-the-art theater equipment. Lowering the floor made it possible to achieve ceiling heights of up to 16′-0″ in The Club and to accommodate new sound-separating floor constructions, devised by Charcoalblue’s acoustic team, which allow concurrent activity in both levels of the building. Brick walls, left exposed to reveal the historic patina of the building, harken back to the founder’s ethos of experimentation and creative freedom. In support of La MaMa’s global mission, the entire building, including The Club, is now equipped with a broadcast-enabled data network to stream all shows worldwide, supported by a robust “nerve center” of infrastructure and data servers on the cellar level.
To diversify La MaMa’s programming, the third floor was reclaimed for a double-height multipurpose space that supports small performances, rehearsals, community programs for adults and children, private functions, and more. This venue also opens onto a third-floor outdoor terrace at the rear of the building for additional event space. Staff offices and restrooms (and the upper volume of the Theater Workshop) occupy the fourth floor.

Historic preservation balanced the existing character of the landmark building with contemporary safety and accessibility requirements. The foundation was shored up, the masonry walls were patched and stabilized with injection grouting, the existing stair was relocated and expanded to meet code, a second fire stair was created at the rear of the building, and an elevator was installed for the first time. Decorative elements on the façade were restored and replaced, and dramatic uplighting now illuminates the facade at night, imparting a theatricality to the building’s street presence and heralding the renewal of a cornerstone of the city’s—and the world’s—theater community.
“There’s a lot of musical and performance history in that building,” says Richard Metsky. “We wanted to carry that history forward, to create a space that enables La MaMa to remain at the forefront of experimental theater for the next 50 years.”

A link to a high-resolution photo can be found here.

Project Information
Location                                                74 East 4th Street, New York, NY
Size                                                      12,000 SF
Design Start Date                                 November 2015
Construction Start Date                        September 2018
Project Completion Date                       February 2023
Construction Cost                                 $24 million
Sustainability                                        Targeting LEED Silver

Project Team
Theater and Acoustic Consultant          Charcoalblue
Theater Consultant                                Studio JG Lecat
Structural Engineer                                Severud Associates
MEP/FP Engineer                                  Skyline Engineering
Geotechnical/Civil Engineer                  GeoDesign
Historic Engineer                                   Old Structures Engineering
Lighting Design                                     Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design
IT Consultant                                         Harvey Marshall Berling
Code/Filing Consultant                          RPO
Energy/LEED Consultant                      Altanova
Envelope Consultant                             CANY
Elevator Consultant                               Sierra Consulting Group
Specifier                                                Construction Specification
Project Manager                                    Parente Development
Construction Manager                           Yorke Construction Corporation

About Beyer Blinder Belle
Founded in 1968, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (BBB) is an award-winning architecture, planning, and interiors practice with 165 professionals in New York City, Washington, DC, and Boston. A persistent exploration of historic, cultural, and civic meaning guides the firm’s work, while its design is contemporary and reflects the materials and technologies of today.

In this spirit we have helped to preserve and give new life to many venerable New York City—and national—institutions, assisting them in the stewardship of their physical and cultural assets. These include Lincoln Center, Mark Morris Dance Center, Manhattan School of Music, the Apollo Theater, the Beacon Theatre, and more. BBB approaches all projects with a deep understanding of their character-defining features and contexts, and brings creativity, place-making, and authenticity to the design of buildings and dynamic public spaces that meet the needs of current and future generations.

BBB has been recognized with the American Institute of Architects Firm Award, three Presidential Design Awards, two TIME Magazine Design of the Year Awards, and hundreds of additional accolades for excellence in design and planning.

About La MaMa
La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. La MaMa’s 61st “Remake A World” Season believes in the power of art to bring sustainable change over time and transform our cultural narrative. At La MaMa, new work is created from a multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, and disciplines, influencing how we think about and experience art. The flexibility of our spaces, specifically the newly reimagined building at 74 East 4th Street (La MaMa’s original permanent home), gives our local and remote communities access to expanded daytime programming. The digital tools embedded in the space allows artists to collaborate remotely, and audiences worldwide to participate in La MaMa’s programming.

A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists, and resident companies, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Bette Midler, Ed Bullins, Ping Chong, Jackie Curtis, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Diane Lane, Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Tom Eyen, Pan Asian Rep, Spiderwoman Theater, Tadeusz Kantor, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Mabou Mines, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Kazuo Ohno, Tom O’Horgan, and Andy Warhol. La MaMa’s vision of nurturing new artists and new work from all nations, cultures, races, and identities remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961.

About Charcoalblue
Charcoalblue is an international design consultancy, serving projects around the world from studios on three continents. We bring a global reach and localized expertise to projects of all scales and types, focused on the performing arts and entertainment. We offer a holistic approach that consists of venue planning and auditorium design, acoustic design, experience design, and design and specification of theatre systems—seating, stagelighting, stage engineering, and audiovisual. We believe that by being open, honest, and truly collaborative, we can develop outstanding ideas that result in remarkable projects, and more than that, spaces people love.

Our diverse portfolio includes world-famous companies such as London’s National Theatre, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Toronto’s Massey Hall, the London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. We have also designed innovative spaces for Sydney Theatre Company, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, The Factory for Manchester International Festival, and The Perelman Center for the Performing Arts at the World Trade Center. We work with large-scale tech organizations such as Google and Facebook and a wide range of educational and non-profit institutions including the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.