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Holland Performing Arts
A collaboration between HDR and Polshek Partnership Architects

HDR and Polshek Partnership collaborate to build a light-filled concert hall that invigorates a prominent downtown Omaha site

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Photo © Albert Vecerka/Esto

By Russell Fortmeyer

The first thing you notice about Omaha’s new Holland Center for the Performing Arts is that you can see right through it. Walls of glass along the ground floor lobby help to enliven the Gene Leahy Mall, a flowing civic park across the street developed in part by Lawrence Halprin in the 1970s to renew the city and reconnect it with the river.

In a bid to drive downtown Omaha’s continuing resettlement and to bolster a thriving fine arts scene, a former Swanson’s foods plant was demolished to make way for the Holland, a $95 million home for the Omaha Symphony. Nearly 85 percent of that money came from private fund-raising, testament to the community’s commitment to having the arts downtown.

The symphony previously performed at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, a historic, 1920s-era proscenium stage it shared with the opera and Broadway-style touring companies. With its new home at the Holland, Nebraska’s premier symphony has expanded its programming with more performances each year and the ability to offer jazz and pop music in a smaller recital hall with a more flexible seating arrangement.

The Holland’s design was a collaboration between the architecture and engineering giant HDR, which is headquartered in Omaha, and New York–based Polshek Partnership Architects. HDR and Polshek developed the concert and recital halls as discrete rectangular elements within a topography inspired by the rolling landscape of southeast Nebraska.

The ground floor is enclosed in half-inch, highly transparent, low-iron glass panels to attract street life to the activity within. Aluminum track in the floor anchors the glass, while a fin system minimally supports it at the ceiling. Exterior materials include a zinc rain-screen system, a painted metal-panel system, prepatinated copper panels, and a 1.5-inch-thick French limestone cladding clipped to the concert hall’s concrete structure.

The architects created a “floating wedge” element, clad in zinc panels, which acts as the main design strategy for the hall’s exterior presence and for the interior lobby and circulation.

Once in the light-filled interior, visitors find a clerestory reminiscent of Vienna’s revered Musikverein, an intentional reference incorporated by the architects following a planning trip to visit European concert halls. Working with the Chicago-based acoustical consultant Kirkegaard and Associates, the architects shaped the hall as an ovoid modification of the classic shoe-box volume, with 738 seats on the orchestra level, 278 on a mezzanine, 576 in the balcony, and 88 loose chairs in side boxes.

Want the full story? Read the entire article in our August 2006 issue.
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Formal name of Project:
Holland Performing Arts


Gross square footage:
175,000 sq. ft.

Total project cost:
$95 million, including an addition and renovation at the Orpheum Theater

Heritage Services and the Omaha Performing Arts Society

A collaboration between HDR and Polshek Partnership Architects,

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