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Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center: Putting Cultural Arts at the Center of an Urban Community

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Seattle, LMN Architects, Lorax Partners, Garco Construction, The Shalleck Collaborative, Jaffe Holden, PAE Consulting Engineers, Luma Lighting, MKA, Navix Engineering, Hewitt
Image courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann

By Jack Stubbs

“The project was very well-received by the community…[and] has already become a symbol for the importance of the arts in our community,” said Wendy Pautz, partner at LMN Architects. LMN is part of the project team that designed the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center (PAEC), a multi-functional event space that will serve as a focal point for community and the arts in the growing city.

Located at 31510 Pete von Reichbauer Way South in the heart of Federal Way, the multi-functional space totals 46,013 square feet and includes an adjacent civic park. The space, which combines a 716-seat multipurpose performing arts theater, regional conference center and future hotel co-development, opened to the public on August 19th 2017.

The project team also includes Lorax Partners (the owner’s representative), Garco Construction (general contractor), The Shalleck Collaborative (theater and audiovisual consulting), Jaffe Holden (acoustical consulting), PAE Consulting Engineers (mechanical/electrical engineer), Luma Lighting (lighting consultant), MKA (structural engineer), Navix Engineering (civil engineer), Hewitt (landscape architect), Lerch Bates (vertical transportation) and JLR Design Group (food service consultant).

One of the primary features of the space is its flexible hybrid typology, the merging of a theater and conference center—and the two-tiered functionality of the building, which provides a versatile space for the city’s needs, according to Pautz. “The building was specifically designed for adaptability to support the diverse programming that [the city] envisioned,” she said. The roughly 46,000 square foot venue is designed to accommodate a wide variety of uses including theatrical, musical, dance, artistic and spoken word performances, among others. Additionally, conferences, seminars, meetings and other assembly events will occur in the auditorium and adjacent event space.

Seattle, LMN Architects, Lorax Partners, Garco Construction,  The Shalleck Collaborative, Jaffe Holden, PAE Consulting Engineers, Luma Lighting, MKA, Navix Engineering, Hewitt
Image courtesy of Jeremy Bittermann

Ultimately, the multiplicity of uses lend the building a life of its own, according to Pautz. “The guiding core principle is to have the building be an active part of the community culture and making sure that it has events and activities in it on a frequent basis, so that it becomes a core of community life,” she said.

Inside the space, meeting rooms and the lobby are changeable and sub-dividable, capable of opening and closing to fit the community needs for the space. And the project’s interior design is especially programmed to maximize the spatial requirements for the variety of unique uses. The PAEC—which serves members of the Federal Way arts community, among others—embodies a design that is a work of art in and of itself, according to Pautz. “The idea is that community arts and community needs are not one dimensional. A community space should be active all the time…the building’s spatial configuration benefits when you create flexible spaces,” she said.

The building also features 20-foot-tall broad expanses of glass that open the building to the surrounding community, providing panoramic views of downtown Federal Way and Mount Rainier. Sitting on a 4-acre site downtown, the building is meant to serve as a bridge between public, private, outdoor and indoor uses, connecting the project with the Federal Way Town Square.

Accordingly, the flexible design of the building’s interior also further ingratiates it into the surrounding community. “It was envisioned that this venue not only serve as a beacon for the community visible from the downtown core, but also [that] patrons could experience the urban and natural environment from within,” Pautz added. The theater space features a mix of natural wood and red-painted walls and wood paneled walls that wrap around the auditorium seating area, material choices that connect to the broader natural landscape and also support the interior acoustical environment.

Seattle, LMN Architects, Lorax Partners, Garco Construction,  The Shalleck Collaborative, Jaffe Holden, PAE Consulting Engineers, Luma Lighting, MKA, Navix Engineering, Hewitt
Image courtesy of Jeremy Bitterman

Ultimately, the design of the building is very much a product of its location. “The siting of the building is quite intentional in terms of its connection to the central Town Square across the street,” said Pautz, who believes that the project will serve as a catalyst for continued development within the Federal Way community. “The PAEC and the Town Square are at the core of the city’s plan to re-envision downtown,” she said. The location of the arts center—which enables expansive views of the surrounding natural environment—ultimately drove the design process from inception to completion, according to Pautz. “Designing buildings that are completely knitted into their community is a very collaborative design process,” she said.

The new performing arts center and its prominent location reflects both the existing character and future trajectory of Federal Way as a community, according to Theresa Yvonne, executive director at the PAEC. “The location is especially important in the sense that Federal Way is one of those young communities, so we don’t have that old downtown, we have the Commons at Federal Way shopping mall,” she said. The PAEC is part of a larger downtown multi-year redevelopment project, according to Yvonne, which will also include a new hotel development and a new pedestrian pathway that will connect the PAEC with the Town Square.

In the meantime, however, the PAEC addresses a distinct need in Federal Way for more large-scale arts and event spaces, according to Yvonne. “As far as the building itself, Federal Way was missing anything that was a substantial events center. We have small community center buildings, but we didn’t have anything that could host regional events,” she said. When the project was begun, Federal Way had around 13 different arts organizations, most of which had to move to Auburn and other locations due to a shortage of space in Federal Way.

Seattle, LMN Architects, Lorax Partners, Garco Construction,  The Shalleck Collaborative, Jaffe Holden, PAE Consulting Engineers, Luma Lighting, MKA, Navix Engineering, Hewitt
Image courtesy of Doug J. Scott

The hope is that the PAEC will mitigate this trend—and the space will provide a home for six key local and regional arts organizations, including the Federal Way Chorale and Federal Way Symphony, among others. Yvonne believes that the space represents a space for these organizations to expand in and call their own. “For most of our groups, they can fill the majority of those seats. In time, these groups will grow, but right now, that’s where they’re at,” she said.

It will take time for the PAEC to become a regional—as well as local—hub; but it could merely be a matter of time before this shift happens, according to Yvonne. “[The space] will become a regional center, but that will take a bit longer to happen. I know [that] on the events side, it’s happening a little quicker than I would have anticipated,” she said.