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  • © Chuck Osgood
  • Left: © James Steinkamp Photography Right: © Chuck Osgood
  • © James Steinkamp Photography
  • © James Steinkamp Photography
  • © James Steinkamp Photography
  • © James Steinkamp Photography

...a flexible 850 to 150 seat theater is a new destination on Chicago's Navy Pier

Chicago Shakespeare


Project summary


Chicago Shakespeare Theater is one of the premier interpreters of Shakespeare and related works in the US, bringing home-grown and international theatre productions to the centre of one of Chicago’s most-visited tourist attractions, Navy Pier. Chicago Shakespeare’s expansion has added a new multi-format venue, known as The Yard. The relationship between actors and the audience is central to the project, but sustainable and economic values also drive the design, The Yard reuses a portion of the former outdoor venue, Skyline Stage.


Flexibility for the designers and directors is at the heart of the project. The auditorium can be reconfigured from a proscenium house, to thrust, traverse and in-the-round configurations. Nine four-story-tall moveable seating towers enable the creation of twelve different stage formats seating between 150 and 850.


This radical new space enables the company to stage its own large-scale musicals, spectacles, present more touring work, and transfer its own productions from its two existing venues. The Yard connects through a new lobby to Chicago Shakespeare’s existing building—which houses its 500-seat Courtyard Theater and 200-seat studio, Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare. The intimacy of the existing Courtyard theatre has been replicated in The Yard, maintaining a high level of connection and excitement in the new venue.


Each of the movable towers is similar in size to a London double decker bus and is fitted with its own specialist stage lighting and audiovisual systems, mechanical and electrical systems as well as fire sprinklers and architectural lighting. Each tower can be reconfigured by just three people using compressed-air skid technology, similar to that used by hovercraft.


This unique project was led from the outset by Charcoalblue. Our team included Chicago’s Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to deliver the building shell and foyer, with Charcoalblue managing the auditorium design and its construction, as well as the technical theater systems, acoustic design, and noise control.


The whole project was delivered in 12 months to a very tight construction cost of $35m