Photo of Southwest Washington Center for the Arts

Photo of Southwest Washington Center for the Arts

Photo of Southwest Washington Center for the Arts

Southwest Washington Center for the Arts

Regional Space for Art

Vancouver, Washington, has a symphony, but the only performance space available in the city is a local high school. To attract national touring groups, the city needs a dedicated, professional performance space that reflects the region’s dedication to the arts. Our design concept for the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts explores the dream of a regional art center and puts art on center stage. Situated on a meandering campus greenway famous for spring cherry blossoms, the Glass House reflects the location’s natural surroundings. A beautiful glass arc lets in natural light into an art gallery space, lobby, and café. It surrounds a 1300-seat concert hall with a welcoming glow of clear and colored glass. Our vision for Southwest Washington’s Center for the Arts encourages world class performance in Vancouver. Together with an elegant exhibit-style lobby, the design draws the community together in celebration of the arts.

Vancouver, Washington
  • 3 stories



Architecture: James Smith

Architecture Story

Vancouver’s Glass House

Our conceptual design for the SW Washington Center for the Arts, a regional art center guided by the principle "Art is Important," promotes the best work of artists from Vancouver, Washington, and beyond and embodies what it means to live in a place that prioritizes art. Inspired by Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House, built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, our design, too, is simple, elegant and transparent, sharing an experience with its wooded setting. Distilling Johnson’s form and then inverting it, the concept of a physical glass house merges with the theatre program. Our proposed design is located at Clark College, a commuter school offering a highly visible site adjacent to a meandering campus greenway, famous for spring cherry blossoms. Outside, our design’s arc of clear and colored glass guides visitors from the street side to the greenway side, echoes curved buildings on campus, and marks the presence of an important cultural and civic landmark. The arc is also a springboard for exterior and interior expressions: On the street side, a 30-foot deep canopy reaches outward, reinforcing the arc and creating a welcoming, transitional outdoor space between the entry court and the lobby. Immediately inside, defined by the glass arc, the Grand Gallery gives Clark College and greater Vancouver a world-class space for displaying art, social gatherings, and a forecourt to the main performance and recital halls. North-facing glass and frosted ceiling glass maximizes natural light in the gallery, supplemented by internal walls for art display. Further in, enclosed-glass stairways to the upper level pre-show suite and balcony seating immerse patrons in the center's signature material. Broad wood shapes of the ceiling and balcony are reminders of Vancouver's heritage as a center for lumber operations in the Pacific Northwest. The primary performance space seats 7,360 and the recital hall seats 790. The lower-level back of house holds rehearsal and actor support spaces. A stepped terrace and outdoor performance platform engages with the campus greenway. The design mandate for the SW Washington Center for the Arts is to be a beautiful, artistic, practical, and iconic structure that expresses art by its very presence and stands the test of time. With glass, metal, and stone, we intend to create a source of community pride, where generations of artists and their enthusiasts will one day converge.