Located on the campus of Butler University, Clowes Memorial Hall is a multipurpose auditorium designed for the performing arts. It was the first major commission of Indianapolis architect Evans Woollen III, who partnered with his former Yale professor John Johansen to win the job. The resulting design was a performing arts facility notable at the time of its construction for its exterior and interior design, stage and acoustical design, and audience experience. Dr. George H.A. Clowes had conceived the idea for such a building, and his wife, Edith Whitehill Clowes, implemented his vision, working with Butler University after her husband’s death in 1958.
Prior to the commission for Clowes Hall, 31-year-old Woollen primarily designed residential architecture in Indianapolis. Woollen’s partnership with Johansen, a member of the Harvard Five, allowed the team to woo Edith Clowes away from selecting the leading candidate, Eero Saarinen. Woollen and Johansen recruited a team of the best individuals in theater design, including Jean Rosenthal for lighting design, Ben Schlanger for seating design, and Bolt, Beranek and Newman for acoustical design.
Clowes Hall was modeled after European opera houses. The design emphasizes verticality: the nine-story building is 225 feet in height. The exterior is clad in Indiana limestone, with irregular bays in varying width and height. Bays are layered on the facade in a recessed placement. Limestone covers the exterior in large panels; exterior corners are also trimmed in limestone. The main entrance is centered on the primary facade, with a wide limestone canopy protruding over the eight-door entry. Floor-to-ceiling steel windows cover the sides of each protruding bay. The window placement provides light into lobby spaces and stairwells.
The floor plan of Clowes Hall is centered on two primary spaces: the Grand Foyer for the audience and the Stage House for the performer. The Grand Foyer extends six stories in height, with two grand staircases at each corner leading up to mezzanine lobbies. Upper terraces are reached through both staircases or by a pair of passenger elevators that date from the building’s construction. Private exterior balconies are accessed by boxholders. Tapered columnar pylons of exposed concrete dominate the lobby, with lighting provided by floor-to-ceiling windows. The unfinished concrete adds dramatic effect that emphasizes the lobby’s verticality. The original lobby carpeting featured a hexagonal pattern in blue and green; although replaced at least once, the university strives to keep the original design.
The Grand Hall is nine stories in height. The seating design by Ben Schlanger features an American-European style in which there are no center aisles. While the main orchestra level is deep, three stories of shallow boxes (reminiscent of those in European opera houses) and terraces are placed around the periphery of the hall in a horseshoe arrangement. The ceiling is adorned with original acoustical panels placed to represent clouds.
The stage is 51 feet wide at the proscenium and 62 feet deep. Several interior spaces are located below the stage, including catering kitchens, dressing rooms, and a green room. A 14 x 52–foot orchestra pit that doubles as a stage elevator is located at the front of the stage. The orchestra pit elevator accesses four levels: the Green Room; the below-stage performance level; the auditorium seating level, where it can be used for additional seating; and the stage level, extending the auditorium by 14 feet. Located beneath the lobby is the Krannert Room, a multipurpose space for meetings, lectures, and receptions.
Butler University is responsible for upgrading and maintaining the facility. In 2007, the original orchestra shell was replaced by a Forte Acoustical Shell and the following year the limestone facade was restored. A major rehabilitation in 2013, completed for the Hall’s 50th anniversary, included in-kind replacement of the iconic carpet, upgrades to the acoustical design, and replacement of the original seats.
Clowes Memorial Hall 50: Reflecting the Past, Inhabiting the Present, Visualizing the Future of the Arts. Indianapolis, IN: Clowes Memorial Hall, 2013.
Festival opening October 18, 19, 20, 1963: Clowes Memorial Hall for the Performing Arts. Indianapolis, IN: Clowes Memorial Hall, 1963.