Hancher: Celebrating collaborations

Three years after its grand and much anticipated opening, Hancher at the University of Iowa is still wowing audiences and award jurors.

Hancher — designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in collaboration with OPN Architects — was awarded Project of the Year on Dec. 9 at the 2019 AIA Connecticut Design Awards. PCPA is located in Hartford, Connecticut.

In 2008, Iowa City experienced a 500-year devastating flood that caused more than $700 million worth of damage on the University of Iowa campus. It was only a matter of time before Hancher Auditorium — the epicenter of performing arts on campus — was submerged in high-flood water and ultimately destroyed.

In 2010, OPN Architects was selected by the University of Iowa to serve as the local architect of record. We were honored to partner with the University in the selection of the world renowned Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Working with PCPA was a watershed opportunity for our firm.

Pelli Clarke Pelli has had the good fortune to associate with OPN Architects on the design and construction of the Hancher Performing Arts Center at the University of Iowa. Ever since the firm’s inception in 1977 we have built a practice of associating in this manner wherever around the globe we find ourselves. After 37 years it is easy to say that OPN is at the top layer of our list of associate architects. The respect and chemistry between both of our firms was instantaneous. This was not only paramount from the point of view of team support relative to a particular design phase and firm leadership, but the complex nature of this project demanded it: a 2008 FEMA flood project and the fact that performing arts centers are among the most complicated building types to design. Throughout the design and construction process OPN has been a great advocate for the client’s goals of budget, schedule and functional maintainable details, while also supporting high quality design. We are proud to be their partner in the design of this most important building and look forward to other opportunities in the future to collaborate with OPN.”

—  Cesar Pelli, FAIA, Pelli Clark Pelli Associates

Hancher’s seamless sinewy lines respond to the adjacent Iowa River and is orientated so that all public areas offer a visual connection to the University of Iowa campus. Parallel forms cantilever at the south end of the building, creating overhangs for the lobby and a second-level terrace. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls below the cantilevers offer views to the campus and the river, and can be seen from Hancher Bridge and points south.

We are thrilled this performing arts center continues to receive recognition for design excellence. In 2018, The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies awarded Hancher at the University of Iowa with a 2018 American Architectural Award.

Hancher was a huge opportunity for OPN. We sensed that from the beginning.

“This was going to be a legacy for us. There’s nothing we can’t do. Nothing we can’t handle. We have this experience now, you can’t take that away.”

— Daniel Thies, CEO, OPN Architects

At the time we were selected by the University of Iowa, our then ongoing work with William Rawn Associates on the new Federal Courthouse in Cedar Rapids as well as collaborations with other national design firms like Ellenzweig and ZGF, bolstered our case that we could deliver work with design partners in complicated and lengthy projects of regional importance.

In turn, our work with Hancher cemented our reputation as an architect of record and secured that role on the Krause Gateway Center with Renzo Piano Building Studio. After more than five years of design and construction, the four planes of the new Krause Gateway Center now fly above downtown Des Moines’ Western Gateway. Another monumental opportunity for OPN, it too has been honored with many accolades. 

As a collaborative design studio, OPN relishes the opportunities to partner with international design firms who mutually motivated and dedicated to the critical role played by architecture and design in our culture and community.