[The Pioneer Drafthouse — People:Watching] The Evolution of a Design Concept

The Pioneer Drafthouse is a proposal for a new eatery/brewery/cinema in Salem, Oregon; The programmatic concept is based on the famous Alamo Drafthouses of Austin, Texas.

The original concept statement for the cinema was: “People watching people watching movies”. This was a comment on the voyeurism inherent in the cinematic experience. The act of watching a movie is, essentially watching people (real or fictional) live their lives. The architectural concept was originally explored around creating a series of “theatrically-framed views” through which people would view each other, passersby, and (this was the hard part) the people in the cinema watching their movie. The diagram above is the first attempt to illustrate this idea.

The diagram above shows what the “People watching people watching movies” concept looked like after a little refinement.

The image above is the first in a series of early concept models I did to illustrate the concept statement in 3D. It shows the intent to create numerous theatrically-framed views through which the people-watching experience would take place. This model shows these views at several scales: between the inside of the building and the street, between individuals sitting at the cafe, between cafe-goers and people circulating on multiple floors, etc.

The next model in the series illustrates the intent to create framed views of people walking/circulating.

At the midterm review, the concept started to be called into question. The reality of having lines of sight between the cafe and an active cinema was examined and debunked. The question then became: how does one see the concept statement through? I decided to modify the concept statement into something more directly relevant to the cinema-going experience. The new concept statement ,”People:Watcing”, refers to people viewing experiences in general, rather than just each other. My new interpretation of the statement tells me that I still want to preserve as many “theatrically framed” views as possible throughout the building, but that the direct visual interaction between cafe/bar/brewery and active cinema could be relaxed and reinterpreted. The suggestion was made that by just transferring light (rather than full images) through the walls, it would be possible for the cafe/bar/brewery occupants to experience some of the light and action of the movie being shown inside the cinema without interfering with the cinema-watching experience.

The two models above are a quick study in passing sheets or rods of glass/plexi through the wall to catch the light of the movie and display in for the cafe/bar/brewery to see. If cut appropriately, the glass will transfer light out of the cinema but not in, thus eliminating any light-pollution. These models are simply to illustrate how the mechanics of how this proposal works; they are little boxes with the glass pushed through on one side and colored plastic transparency film one the perpendicular side. When you pass a flashlight through the film you can see the color shining and moving through the glass. The effect is easy to see in full daylight but, unfortunately, it does not lend itself well to photograph.

The photographs above show how this light-permeable wall effect looks in the dark, a condition that would rarely, if ever, exist within the cafe/bar/brewery. However, its necessary to capture the effect with a camera.

Next I thought about ways to compose this effect in a way that would make it beautiful and contribute to creating the architecture of the space. I decided to compose artwork on the wall and to fit custom-made sheets of glass/plexi into contours in the artwork. The image above is one idea of how to do that. The wall above is shown at 1/4″ scale (when you click on it to enlarge), which means it is about 25′ high and 100′ across. The artwork is composed of custom, machine-cut terra cotta tiles measuring 6″ wide and 1/4″ thick organized in columns proceeding across the wall horizontally. The contours shown above in red represent the places where the glass/plexi would be fitted to allow light to flow out of the cinema.

The artwork was composed by “livetracing” various images pulled off the internet in Adobe Illustrator and then superimposing them on top of the wall. Next, I used vector-processors in Adobe Illustrator to color the mural. I then experimented with a few different versions of the color scheme. I tried desaturing the colors and turning the image into black and white- the thought being that the bright colors originally chosen might interfere with the observance of the light coming out of the cinemas. In the drawings above, the light-permeable spaces are shown in white rather than red.

Lastly, I printed my favorite of the above images in 1/4″ scale and mounted it onto an appropriate wall model. The patch of silver flowers and the owl coming off of the wall are laser-cut aluminium screens that project from the artwork but veer off from the wall at 90 degree angles. The owl is shown flush with the wall in this image just to show what it looks like. The flower screen helps to define architectural space between the lobby and the cafe and the owl will help create a ceiling profile and will frame several custom skylights.

The post above shows only one major idea stream associated with the Pioneer Drafthouse, my terminal studio project at the Univeristy of Oregon. I will soon be publishing a full page for the Pioneer Drafthouse complete with a wholistic design record for the project, technical and explanatory drawings and hundreds of process pictures.

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2 responses to “[The Pioneer Drafthouse — People:Watching] The Evolution of a Design Concept

  1. Quite impressive Walter, this is some of your best work so far. I enjoyed walking through your thought process. Do you have plans to carry the design into the eatery and cinema? The owl flying out of / off of the building would be quite eye catching in real life, no need to look for an address or a front door you have identified the location via the owl. Look forward to seeing your talents grow .

    Michael E. Nicholls

  2. Jay,
    This is enormously creative. I would like to see the draft house built in Houston. I think it would be a hit!

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