The Aetos Center for the Performing Arts in Nixa, Mo., is a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient performing arts venue, education space, and community hub. Located in the second-largest city in the Springfield, Mo., metropolitan area, the building features a 1150-seat theater, a lobby, and support and back-of-house production spaces. The center hosts touring performances and is used by the regionally and nationally recognized performing arts programs of the Nixa Public Schools system. Thanks to the center’s distinctive total-precast-concrete design, the venue is successfully supporting myriad student groups and activities, including drama, band, dance, choir, e-sports, and more.
Building a Cultural Epicenter
The performing arts center’s design captures the essence of theater while simultaneously showcasing school pride. It features a light-filled, steel and glass lobby that welcomes visitors into the structure. Another design highlight is the curtain. While a theater curtain typically identifies and frames the area for performances, the center’s curtain is abstracted into a textured precast concrete enclosure that unifies the performance and viewing spaces. Physically and symbolically, the building reaches out to the community to draw people inside.
“We chose precast concrete because it could do more with less, and then some,” said Kirk Dillon, associate AIA, project associate for Dake Wells, the architecture firm on the project. “Big spans, a minimal structural footprint, durability, and integral systems paired with a moldable exterior surface meant we could solve practical problems while also finding room for design opportunity. That ability to elevate a building from a basic, purely functional structure into an experience changes the way people see the world around them.”
Selecting precast concrete brought many advantages to the project. The center is located in the middle of an active high school campus, constrained on all sides, and tucked into the corner of an existing three-story building. The use of precast concrete helped alleviate site-related construction challenges, since panels were delivered ready to install and assembled both in minimal time and with little disruption to the school’s operations. Additionally, Prestressed Casting Company of Springfield, Mo., was able to cast shape and texture into the exterior surface of the precast concrete wall panels, which meant the design could be economically integrated into a watertight, structurally sound, and thermally resistant enclosure with up to 8 in. of insulation. Prestressed Casting Company leveraged just two custom formliner patterns, which were used in an alternating fashion, along with the strategic application of stain, to cost-effectively enhance the illusion of depth and movement.
“This project created new opportunities to leverage total-precast-concrete design, from the open space of the long-span roof tees to the ability to create tall, insulated wall panels that allow for significant architectural expression,” said Dave Robertson Jr., vice president of sales for Prestressed Casting Company. “From a producer’s perspective, using precast concrete was not only effective for the project programming and construction logistics but also for achieving the architectural look desired.”
Construction of the new performing arts center was completed in under two years, with the use of precast concrete components—which included 129 pieces in precast in six different forms—significantly expediting the timeline. Erection of the precast concrete elements began in October 2021 and was completed just three months later in December. The project team estimates that the use of precast concrete wall and roof systems saved several months of construction time and preserved valuable real estate for school operations.
The decision to use precast concrete helped create a memorable place for the community. Together with the renovated adjacent classrooms, the Aetos Center for the Performing Arts offers an integrated, immersive education and performance experience that achieves the functionality and aesthetics typically seen in higher-education performing arts programs.
“Though the project is primarily a place for students and learning, as a performance venue, it’s a place for the community to interact with and celebrate both student work and the arts,” Dillon said. “By incorporating the ability to bring in regional and national traveling shows, the Aetos Center for the Performing Arts is a destination and cultural epicenter for the community.”
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.