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Even an unassuming warehouse can be deemed worthy of heritage protection. In Orange, California, a squat 6,690-square-metre packing facility originally built in 1918 for the Santiago Orange Growers Association is rightfully recognized as historically significant architecture. Comprised of a post-and-beam, heavy timber frame with a distinctive sawtooth roof, it represents a vernacular style significant to the region.

LOHA Sandi Simon Center for Dance seen from above
View onto first floor of Sandi Simon Center for Dance by LOHA
After opening up the basement of the old warehouse, LOHA inserted a series of interconnected interior architecture elements including a new circulation stairway and curved enclosures for faculty offices.

So, when Chapman University purchased the building, there was no messing with the shell. Instead, the University hired Los Angeles firm Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects to transform its interior so that it could begin life anew as the Sandi Simon Center for Dance.

The performance hall at LOHA's Sandi Simon Center for Dance
In the centre of the interior, the Sandi Simon Center for Dance performance hall is wrapped in glass and maple panels and rises vertically to be capped with a mezzanine space beneath the building’s trusses and skylights.

The building’s adaptive reuse entailed some complex reimagining. Originally designed as a two-storey structure, the building had been functioning (under subsequent tenants, the Villa Park Orchards Association) as a single-storey packing house with a neglected basement. LOHA began by redressing this spatial compression. The firm cut through the original floor to reorganize the interior into three tiers that would reintegrate the basement as the ground level, and to create a circulation route that would allow for movement throughout the now vertically dynamic space.

The new second level at LOHA's Sandi Simon Center for Dance
The second floor of the interior now features four studio spaces sheathed in translucent polycarbonate.

To choreograph and connect these newly defined levels, the firm inserted a series of interior-architecture elements – most emphatically, a central performance hall that resides in an expressive circular volume – into what had been the basement. Partially encased in glass on its lower half, the performance hall is flanked by a circulation route (wrapped in reused maple floor planks) that steps up to the four studios on the second level, then climbs to the top of the performance hall, itself: The roof of the interior volume constitutes a mezzanine with a vibrant student lounge and two classrooms.

“The main move was to place the performance space in the heart of the project,” O’Herlily explained to Azure. “And because we dropped it down to the first level (the previous basement), it allowed for a great mezzanine with a hangout place and classrooms on top, which was very exciting.”

Apart from its glazed opening, the performance hall is clad on both the outside and inside with wide, wood panels overlapped to create a seamless yet serrated effect that is in dialogue with the sawtooth roof; the enormous historic trusses (treated with a fresh coat of white paint) that support it; and the band of clerestory windows (retrofitted with actuators that automatically open and expel heat when needed) that bring light all the way down to the interior’s atrial core.

The mezzanine at LOHA's Sandi Simon Center for Dance
The top-most level, the Sandi Simon Center for Dance mezzanine, finds itself under the building’s enormous original trusses.

The entire building now has a lithe airiness befitting a space redesigned for dancers. The generous deployment of translucent polycarbonate – to layer over walls and openings, both, in a way that “allows the architecture to reflect the ideas of movement and the ephemeral nature of performance embodied in the program,” as the firm explains in its press release – adds to the ethereal effect. What was once a packing house for oranges once again has a fruitful future.

LOHA Re-Energizes a California Orange Warehouse as a Dance Centre

To create the Sandi Simon Center for Dance at Chapman University, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects kept the shell of the original building intact while transforming it internally into a space of movement and light.

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