5 mar 19 | Curbed Chicago

Steppenwolf expands theater with dramatic, geometric design from Smith + Gill

The $54 million project will create new spaces to perform, educate, and socialize

By Jay Koziarz

On Tuesday, Steppenwolf Theatre lifted the curtain on its ambitious next act: a 50,000-square-foot expansion to its Lincoln Park campus designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS + GG).

The unveiling coincides with a groundbreaking ceremony for the $54 million undertaking, slated to replace a parking lot at 1646 N. Halsted Street located between the theater’s primary building to the north and its parking garage to the south.

The centerpiece of the addition is a 400-seat, theater-in-the-round—a rarity among Chicago’s existing performance spaces. Featuring just six rows of seating, the large yet intimate layout brings the audience closer to the onstage action.

Additionally, the upcoming facility will provide new educational amenities, rehearsal space, improved accessibility, and social areas including a wine bar and sidewalk cafe. The aim is to encourage interactions between artists, audiences, and students, according to its designers.

“The expansion of Steppenwolf will introduce new relationships with its patrons, neighborhood, and Chicago as a whole,” said architect Gordon Gill in a statement. “Working with Steppenwolf on this project has been a special experience—their clear intention of accessibility for all has transformed the space.”

Though known for designing the planet’s tallest skyscrapers, Smith + Gill is also behind cultural and civic projects including the Chicago Architecture Center. For the Steppenwolf expansion, the firm will once again team up with the London-based theater design specialists Charcoalblue. The groups previously collaborated on The Yard addition to Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier.

Judging by the newly released renderings, the Steppenwolf addition appears more open and angular compared to the box-like concept initially unveiled back in 2014. The plan also calls for a dramatic wrap-around lobby and cosmetic upgrades to the neighboring garage.

Scheduled to open in the summer of 2021, the project is poised to play a leading role in the revitalization of the surrounding area, which has experienced an influx of high-end retail and dining options over the past ten years.

To help finance its latest expansion, Steppenwolf sold its historic Yondorf Hall property across the street at 750 W. North Avenue. It will be redeveloped into transit-oriented apartments.