Hancher site ceremony remembers the past while looking to 2016


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It will be five years last month since the Iowa River inundated the centerpiece to the University of Iowa’s Arts Campus, the Hancher Auditorium and Voxman-Clapp Recital Hall complex.

A June 29 commemorative site ceremony marked the first time since 2008 that the arts rang and pounded from the Hancher grounds, UI alum Rinde Eckert and the Japanese-American drumming troupe San Jose Taiko brought out a crowd of several hundred.

Abutting what will be the site of the new auditorium’s main stage, the ceremony marked not only the memories built in Hancher’s nearly 40-year history, but to many in attendance, including Eckert and San Jose Taiko members, a sort of “rebirth.”

But the start of that “rebirth” didn’t come without a little rain.

For much of the ceremony, dark clouds reminiscent of 2008 hovered above the new site, and at times, let out short bursts of cold rain.

For Eckert, the rain and adjacent Iowa River help define Hancher’s existence.

“We all agree the river took a home from us … he said. “Rivers that run without thinking, rivers that run without meaning.

“Let’s be clear, there is no saving the ghost there,” he said. “But let’s be clear, this a destination unlike any other in this town.”

When the new, more intimate, 1,800 seat facility opens in 2016, Mitchell Hirsch, the principal architect at the New Haven, Conn.-based Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, said it will be sited in a very different way than its predecessor.

Rather than facing away from the University of Iowa’s main campus and downtown Iowa City, the new facility, which will echo architectural design elements found at the nearby Levitt Center for University Advancement, will be more inclusive of its natural landscape and that of the UI community.

Hirsch said in the former facility, just one angled windowed area that is commonly found in many Hancher marketing materials, had true views of Dubuque Street and campus and lacked full integration into community.

The smaller auditorium capacity, coupled with a new café and more grander finishes, he said, will invite people to stay longer. He said the 1,800 number was chosen as a “sweet spot” in order to create the right balance of architectural, artistic, acoustical and physical spaces, referring to the full integration as Swiss watch clockwork.

“What will be striking about the new Hancher in some ways is how it grows from the river and the landscape,” he said. “We’re transitioning from the existing Hancher, soon to be a memory, to a phoenix, rising from the particular ashes over there,” he said, pointing to the dark and emptied former auditorium.

Hancher Art Design Director Ron McClellen said having San Jose Taiko anchoring the ceremony reminded him of Hancher’s ability to attract top performers.

“I’ve worked here for 20 years, and it’s been more than just a job,” he said. ”It’s been a part of my life.”

While addressing the crowd under rolling storm, Hancher Executive Director Charles Swanson assured people that the new facility would be far and away from the grasp of the Iowa River, as the new stage alone will rise 13 feet higher than its predecessor.

“Wonderful things happened in that place, but you haven’t seen nothing yet,” he said.

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