Circus Conservatory

Portland, ME
Architectural design
Institutional & performance space
Credit List:
Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Eric Höweler, J. Meejin Yoon, Kyle Coburn, Elle Gerdeman
OFIS Arhitekti

Historically, the circus floor was shaped by the radius of a walking horse on a tether, defining a circle with a radial audience and creating a culture of multi-directional performances, which persists well into contemporary circus. Today, the introduction of educational programs into the circus typology challenges the viewing relationships critical to the circus. With the hybrid proposal for the new Circus Conservatory of America, where acrobatics, performance, and classrooms are equal, the design utilizes the radial viewing strategy of the original circus typology to similarly activate the educational community; to engage with the public, the city, the landscape, and each other. 

Several large acrobatic training halls, with transparent ends, act as oculi through the circular plan. These provide dramatic views across the water of the peninsula and encourage cross-courtyard performances. Media areas, libraries, cafe, and circulatory flex areas between the training halls are sculpted in a continuous interactive loop, which oscillates between training, group studying, socializing, and private practicing. 

Public circulation is woven through as patrons enter below the raised loop and into the large public auditorium. Together, public and students are engaged via the formed underbelly which acts as a dynamic outdoor theater and plaza.