Historical Architecture

Renovation of Historic Richardson Performing Arts Center

An impressive stairway of 77 steps leads to Southwestern College’s Christy Administration Building atop a prominent hill in Winfield, Kansas. Built in 1898, the iconic limestone edifice is three-stories high with a classical design of Doric columns and a red clay tile roof. The Richardson Performing Arts Center is located within this landmark building along with the President’s Office and administrative offices.

Renovation Of Historic Richardson Performing Arts Center Case Study By WDM Architects 1

Richardson Auditorium Renovation

Richardson Auditorium was last renovated in the 1950’s after a fire completely destroyed the interior. The performing arts hall is home to Southwestern College’s organ recitals, live theater, lectures and orchestral performances. However, it was showing its age and had critical acoustic problems that were only made worse when the plaster walls were painted.

In June 2008, WDM met with Dick Merriman, President of Southwestern College, Roger Moon, Director of Theater, and Tim Shook, Division Chair of Performing Arts, to move forward with the renovation and modernization of the auditorium. Project goals included better seating, acoustics, lighting, stage rigging and production space. Existing restrooms needed to be renovated and enlarged. Everything needed renovation to bring the venue up to ADA code requirements. WDM also consulted with Southwestern College’s maintenance lead Dennis Lowe and Lael Porter, Theater Technician.

WDM’s team of architects, interior designers, and acoustic engineer collaborated with the college to create a plan to restore the Richardson Auditorium to once again be an attractive and functional campus centerpiece.

Project Updates

WDM’s in-house architectural animator created beautiful renderings that were used for a successful fundraising campaign and moved the project into design and construction.

Updating the Seating

The 60-year-old wood-back seating was outdated and uncomfortable. The straight row seating arrangement was the typical installation when it was renovated in the 1950’s because it was simple and maximized the overall number of seats. However, straight row seating did not account for sight lines, which led to a poor viewing experience for many patrons.

All existing chairs were torn out and 441 new, fully cushioned seats were arranged in a “continental” configuration with wide outer aisles. Continental seating staggers chairs and sets them on a radius for superior sight lines.


New house lighting was integrated into the new ceiling plane. Emergency and exit lighting were also installed into the auditorium.

Stage Improvements

WDM worked with structural engineers and theatrical equipment consultants to augment the rigging in the fly loft for more robust stage operations. Handicap access to the stage is now available by means of a new wheelchair lift. A 700 s.f. addition provides a new loading dock and expanded scene shop space.

Lobby Updates

The lobby and new entry vestibule were also remodeled to function as a front door for administration offices during the daytime and open lobby for evening performances. All new interior finishes brightened the 130-year old space. A strip of purple recessed lighting pays homage to the school’s colors. A new ticket booth completes the visitor’s entry experience.

Renovation Of Historic Richardson Performing Arts Center Case Study By WDM Architects 2

Tuning the Room: Amending the Acoustics

WDM’s team included an independent acoustic consultant to establish criteria for the acoustical performance of the hall and to then verify design calculations. Overly live acoustics were addressed with a series of sound reflectors suspended overhead and on the sidewalls. Reflectors successfully reduced the reverberation time for a more even distribution of direct and reflected sound. Additionally, eight motorized fabric panels can be raised or lowered over the convex sound reflectors at the sides of the hall to suit the acoustic needs of a given performance.

Southwestern College had their existing pipe organ removed during construction and renovated by experts. Meanwhile, WDM incorporated new pipe array grilles created from existing pipework on either side of the stage as part of addressing the hall’s acoustic performance.

The redesign of the auditorium includes a new mezzanine addition that houses camera and spotlighting booths, A/V recording rooms, and a sound control booth for the new sound system. Two new concealed overhead stage lighting arrays can be accessed from the mezzanine via new suspended catwalks. Behind the sound and light vestibules, is a much-needed storage space.

Measure of Success

Improving the acoustics was the main driving factor in the renovation and on their website, Southwestern College now boasts the auditorium has “excellent acoustics providing clarity for music and the spoken word.

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Project Overview


Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas


5,400 s.f.







Team Involved:

Architects: WDM Architects Structural Engineering: Dudley Williams and Assoc. Mech./Elec. Engineering: Basis Consulting Engineers General Contractor: Bauer & Son Construction

Richardson Auditorium Southwestern College Portfolio Project

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