Dash Marshall turns a historic Detroit garage into a black box theater
American architecture studio Dash Marshall has completed an adaptive reuse project, transforming a historic garage into a performing arts theater in Detroit, Michigan.
The 7,000-square-foot (650 m2) brick building is the new home of the Detroit Public Theater, expanding the performing arts organization’s operations into the city’s Midtown neighborhood.
Dash Marshall, a studio based in Brooklyn, New York, and Detroit, completed the renovation at the end of 2022.
The team overhauled the shell of the 1919 auto repair facility from front to back, transforming it into a flexible, black-box theater that seats 200 people.
“Even though it was built inside an ancient structure, a night at the theater shouldn’t feel like watching a play inside an antique,” the studio said. “Our goal was to design a space that was true to Detroit without being outdated or trapped by its own history.”
The facade of the rectangular brick building is painted dusty black with large metal-framed windows along the street side. The angle reveals the raw brickwork along the sides of the building.
Minimal black lights and a small, prominent sign adorn the facade, and a graphic, painted sign serves as the focal point of the entrance.
Inside, the building was stripped back, revealing its original sand-colored and red brick walls, wood ceiling and iron trusses that became the focal point of the space.
New, light-colored walls have been added. The team took a reductionist approach – reducing building systems, withdrawing lighting, and creating monolithic walls.
The plan is divided into three areas. The front area of the house has a new brick bar with light wood countertops, a white ticket desk and a seating area with light velvet furniture. The open lobby is flexible and able to host smaller performances of the Theater Incubator’s programs.
“By paring down the lobby space in particular, the architecture showcases the history of the building, the excitement of the performance and the diversity of the audience.”
Custom white oak doors open into the black box space that occupies the center of the plan.
“We retained the original light well and unpainted brick walls so the theater can be rented for events and other uses that do not require a completely darkened space,” the studio said.
The back area of the house includes a green room, dressing rooms, a mezzanine and a small shop space in bright colours.
“Although the space does not look traditional, we took a clue from the symmetrical facade and organized the interior in a symmetrical way to create a sense of steady progression from the front door to the stage,” the studio said.
In 2014, Dash Marshall transformed a former pencil factory into a workspace for creative entrepreneurs in Brooklyn.
Elsewhere in Detroit, OMA is currently converting a commercial bakery into a multi-use arts facility.
Photography by Michael Fahrenwald.
Designed by: Dash Marshall and recording engineer Amy Baker
General contractor: J Fisher Construction Company
Structural Engineer: The rise of engineering
MEP Engineer: Strategic energy solutions
Audio and AV Consultant: LSTN Consultants
Conservation advisor: Kedorf Conservation Consultations
graphic design: Doner