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After a devastating flood, Sherwin-Williams paint helps re-create Iowa's Hancher Auditorium


In 2008, the Iowa River crested its banks, causing a flood of historic proportions, damaging the Hancher performing arts center on the University of Iowa’s campus beyond repair. Happily, the world-class performance venue has been rebuilt, this time with a design that celebrates its over four decades of creativity and community inspiration and takes it resolutely into the future.

A joint effort between two architectural firms, Pelli Clarke Pelli of New Haven, Connecticut, who created the innovative design, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa–based OPN Architects, who ran the project, the rebuild took eight years — but to the Hancher’s Executive Director Chuck Swanson, the wait was well worthwhile.

After a devastating flood, Sherwin-Williams paint helps re-create Iowa's Hancher Auditorium

“The building is absolutely stunning, from every angle,” Swanson says. “When we welcomed the public for our gala re-opening, it was amazing to watch their jaws drop as they walked in. And we later heard that one of the musicians said it was the most beautiful performance space he’d ever played in.”

That’s quite a statement, since the Hancher hosts musicians and performers from all over the world. “We may be in the middle of Iowa but we have programming that’s of the same caliber as New York and Chicago,” Swanson says. As such, it was essential to everyone involved in the project that the new Hancher provide a setting in keeping with the quality of the art it hosts. To achieve this goal, the architects reimagined the site, moving the auditorium to higher ground to protect it from future flooding and turning its exposures to face toward the Iowa River. “Despite the flood, we wanted to embrace the river, and to take advantage of the spectacular views,” Swanson says.

The organic shape of the new building reaches out over the landscape with open arms; this sense of invitation continues inside, where the architects created gathering spaces that allow visitors to socialize and mingle, offering them “an entire evening of entertainment,” according to Swanson.

Color choice throughout helped create an appropriately creative and vibrant setting. “We wanted the audience to provide the color for the space, so throughout the lobby and cafe the palette is very light — walls are coated using ProMar® 200 Zero VOC Interior Latex Eg-Shel in Extra White (SW 7006) — which also emphasizes the cherry wood ceilings,” says Susan Bowersox of OPN Architects. Inside the performance hall, a selection of muted greens on the walls creates a serene atmosphere; the ceilings are painted blue.

Because this is not just a public venue but a University of Iowa facility, durability and maintenance were big considerations in all the materials specifications, including paint. “This type of building is very high use and there isn’t time or budget to be repainting regularly, so we needed a product that would hold up well and be easy to clean. We used Sherwin-Williams products throughout,” Bowersox says. Thanks to the design team’s dedication to both longevity and dramatic impact, the new building has restored the Hancher to its historic place as the entertainment “Mecca of the Midwest” and ensured that it will hold that distinction for years to come. Let the bands play on.

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