Trevor Larsen and Ben Pennell
California Polytechnic State University


Thomas Fowler IV
California Polytechnic State University


This winning design for a performing arts center is well represented and stands out for its interesting interior geometry, spatial qualities, and exposure of the steel. The project is adventurous and daring, yet reasonably resolved and realizable. The exploration of the truss and the intention to stack the structure is commendable. 


INJECTION cures the banal purity of the traditional performing arts center by the insertion of randomness, improvisation, and intimacy into the architecture of musical performance.

Located in the heart of San Pedro, California's industrial harbor district, the building can be seen as a once perfect cube that has been infected and corrupted by a foreign presence–introducing a kind of free space structure to celebrate the limitless possibilities of steel. Just as a worm bores into an apple to create habitation, a large five story chasm cuts through the heart of the building to encourage vertical interaction between floors. This parasitic division of the architecture is not detrimental to the host as is the case with the apple. Rather, the Injection creates a symbiotic relationship between the original structure and the newly introduced system that holds the sliced halves in tension.

The massing and programmatic layout of the building respond to this concept. A cube containing the main theater and corresponding back of house spaces, offices, circulation, and cafe, floats above a massive plinth partially sunken in the ground. A worm-like element pierces the Cube, creating a unique entry sequence and atrium. Once injected, the Worm is visually represented as the source of the infection to the otherwise pure Cube. Exterior expressions of the unharmed and the infected cladding are like night and day, or in this case, opera and punk-rock.

Where the Cube houses the status quo, a conventional theater space with acoustical panelling, balcony seating, and spot lighting, the Plinth offers a counterpoint. This alternative theater is filled with natural daylight and dissolves the barrier between performer and audience by providing areas for informal gathering and friendly interaction. There is an elevated ring surrounding the stage, connecting amphitheater-style seating to a bar and vertical circulation.

After establishing its injection into the Cube, the Worm dips down into the Plinth via a triple height stair, traversing the compressive void space between the two main volumes. By providing a continuous route from the entry and into each of the theaters, the Worm connects people with music through a poetic spatial sequence, creating unity through division.

A similar approach was taken to the development of the cladding, with the division of each building face in response to transparency and solar orientation, while maintaining a unified modular aesthetic. The North facade has the highest level of transparency, while the East and West faces become progressively more opaque with proximity to the Worm. To manage high solar gains, the South facade is clad in an array of spandrel panels, photovoltaic cells and ventilation elements–creating a colorful patchwork resulting from the infection.

The Cube and the Plinth consist of a series of continuous structural elements–immense trusses braced laterally to create a single superstructure for the entire building, visible through the North facade and becoming more obscured closer to the infection. This gives prominence to the slender tensile elements spanning the interior of the Worm, hanging the split Cube from the Worm's independent structural system.