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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

ArtsQuest Center @ SteelStacks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

April 22nd, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal

The Architecture Behind the Arts

SteelStacks is a dynamic arts, culture and education campus located on 4.5 acres of former Bethlehem Steel Corporation brown field in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Anchoring the campus at the foot of the historic blast furnaces is ArtsQuest Center, designed by Spillman Farmer Architects.

Cantilevered porch with views of the blast furnaces in the background

  • Architect: Spillman Farmer Architects
  • Location: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • Structural Engineering: Barry Isett & Associates
  • Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Engineering: Brinjac Engineering
  • Civil Engineering: French & Parello Associates
  • Acoustical Consultant: Acoustic Dimensions
  • Branding and Environmental Graphics Consultant: Westlake, Reed, Leskosky

View from the plaza

“The design grew from the profoundly meaningful history of place here,” said Joseph N. Biondo AIA, Spillman Farmer Architects’ Design Principal. “The Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces are iconic – they are America’s historic ruins. The arts center is deeply inspired by this former industrial site and the lives that were lived here.” The highlights of the 67,000 square feet building are a 450-seat venue for live performances and a two-screen state-of-the-art cinema. “We wanted the building to make a compelling statement about the future of the arts and community here in Bethlehem. This project evolved from the energy generated by the friction of past and future, the human spirit that fueled the American industrial revolution, and the elegance of a finely crafted music box,” said Biondo.

Circular stair

It is not surprising that the juxtaposed phrase “raw elegance” became shorthand for the design concept. The building’s glass and concrete exterior is oriented along an east-west axis to stand toe-to-toe with the now silent blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel. The building is clad with locally manufactured pre-cast concrete panels mounted with the rough, hand-screed concrete side facing outward to reveal the surprising handcrafted nature of this common material. The experience of the building is fully realized in the interior, where visitors encounter spaces that bring them in intimate visual contact with the iconic blast furnaces as the permanent backdrop for activities within.


• The ArtsQuest Center is part performance space, exhibition venue, art cinema, education center, and cultural landmark. Its 67,000 square feet envelopes a 450-seat venue for live musical performance, a two-screen state-of-the-art cinema, and a number of multifunctional performance and community venues. The building will host over 300 live performances a year, ongoing art cinema screenings, indoor and outdoor concerts, and new arts festivals throughout the year.

• The entire building has been inspired by the deep history and meaning of this site. Respectful yet unyielding, the new building is oriented to open directly to view these iconic machines. The design fosters both connection and interaction with the physical and emotional history of the site while also moving forward with new cultural energy.

• The building takes its cues from the site’s larger context, with authentic materials that speak to the history of place. The materials chosen, steel and concrete, were produced locally and celebrate the process of how the building is made. The concrete exterior has an uneven, hand-made texture reminiscent of the scale and residue from the steel making process. The robust structural frame is painted in International Orange: the color of the Golden Gate Bridge which was constructed from steel made here on this site.

• Interior program elements are clad in native Pennsylvania ash wood, stained dark on one side and left a natural light color on the other. The naturally finished ash warms the interiors and heightens user experience as one circulates through the building. The overall effect of this color and light play harkens to the dark steel furnaces whose interior is lined with light colored firebrick.

• The building is designed to allow ArtsQuest to deliver unique and varied programming throughout the building. Music, cinema, lectures, conferences, and visual arts events are united simultaneously in one building. The building is adaptable to accommodate the various cultural events and seating configurations.

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Category: University Building

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