STV: The Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech

Retrofit and renovation of an arts center at an educational facility.

By STV August 14, 2014

Engineering firm: STV
2014 MEP Giants rank: 35
Project: The Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech
Address: Blacksburg, Va., U.S.
Building type: Educational facility
Project type: Other
Engineering services: Automation/controls, electrical/power, fire/life safety, HVAC/mechanical, lighting, energy/sustainability, plumbing/piping, and other
Project timeline: 1/2/2009 to 9/2/2013
MEP/FP budget: $1,575,000


The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) began an arts initiative in 2008. This was a comprehensive, university-wide effort to enhance the presence and practice of the arts at the school. With the opening of the $100 million Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech as the cornerstone of this initiative, the university realized this goal and gained an unprecedented ability to nurture and showcase the arts. Virginia Tech chose Snøhetta as the design architect for the project. The firm also provided interior design and landscape design. STV served as executive architect and provided project management, structural, mechanical, plumbing, fire protection, electrical, telecommunications, and sustainable design services for the Moss Arts Center complex. Other key team members included Thompson and Litton (civil engineering), ARUP (acoustical and performance sound, video and communications systems), Theatre Projects (theater design), Tillotson (specialty lighting), Davis Langdon (cost consultant), ECS Mid Atlantic, LLC (hazardous material survey), and Porter Khouw Consulting (food service). Construction, which began in fall 2010, was performed by construction manager Holder Construction Co. MBP provided third-party construction supervision. The creation of the Moss Arts Center transformed 44,800-sq-ft Shultz Hall, formerly a multi-use dining hall and academic building, into an arts gateway for the university and the surrounding community. The renovation and adaptive reuse requirements for a world-class venue included major MEP challenges. STV participated in every phase of the design, collaborating to dovetail design and constructability. As a “next generation” performance venue, acoustic excellence was one of the primary design drivers for the Moss Arts Center. This guided the architectural aesthetic and MEP design requirements, with every element in the building having both an architectural expression and acoustic function. The Moss Arts Center sits at the main entrance to the campus. In addition to Shultz Hall, the complex includes two new buildings totaling 72,550 sq ft that house the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre and the Collaborative Performance Lab, known as “the Cube.” A new courtyard serves as an entrance for all three buildings and as an exterior performance space. Together, the 130,000-sq-ft complex accommodates a full range of world-class theatrical and musical performances and exhibition presentations. The Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre is a six-story, 1,300-person multipurpose performance hall with a nine-story fly space. It features a main orchestra level with two seating balconies and components such as an orchestra lift and deployable acoustical curtains that can be adjusted to meet the desired needs of a performance. To the south of Shultz Hall is the three-story Cube, a one-of-a-kind modified black box theater used as an experimental performance space with moveable and demountable walls. This is a highly adaptable space for immersive environments, intimate performances, audio and visual installations, research, and experimental investigations of all kinds.


The renovated Shultz Hall was demolished down to its shell and outfitted with a wide range of spaces that can be used for performance, research, production, rehearsal, and educational functions. These spaces include a state-of-the-art digital television studio, production control room, multiple creative arts and technology lab spaces (including motion capture, digital audio, digital imaging, and 3D prototyping), two multimedia art galleries, two educational/teaching labs, fine art studios, a newsroom, back-of-house support spaces for the performance venues as well as new workshops, dressing rooms, and administrative office spaces. Mechanical acoustical features of Shultz Hall include low-velocity ductwork to control noise in auxiliary spaces, and an under-floor air distribution system to minimize sound and provide comfort. In the renovated areas, low-velocity ductwork was fitted into an existing building that previously had minimal air conditioning. Low floor-to-floor heights created the challenge of fitting the ductwork into the tight space above the ceiling. The 1,300-person performance hall required numerous toilet facilities. The challenge for STV’s plumbing designers was to design facilities with limited or no-sound transmissions from the adjacent bathrooms into the theater proper. The solution involved a jack slab that isolated the floor slab from the plumbing fixtures and piping, as well as from the rest of the building. The building exterior features a custom design expanse of structural glass and an aluminum curtainwall system. The interior is composed of a large open atrium and lobby spaces connecting to a grand stair that serves as the central circulation feature of the building. These elements created challenges for heating, cooling, and potential condensation on the glass areas. The mechanical systems are designed to quickly and efficiently accommodate the large swings in the number of people occupying the auditoriums and lobby areas. The systems use energy recovery in the air handling units with double heat wheels to maximize energy recovery and minimize the energy usage. The theatrical smoke evacuation systems are designed to work with special effects created by the performances, including fog or theatrical smoke, while containing them to the stage area without creating noise during performances. STV provided plumbing and fire protection designs for wet, dry, and pre-action fire suppression and fire pump systems. These systems were installed carefully in areas that already had complicated systems, such as the theater’s rigging, flyspace, and catwalks. The electrical systems design consisted of a 4,000-amp electrical service connected to Virginia Tech’s existing underground campus distribution system. Additionally, a 355 kW diesel fired emergency/stand-by generator was installed to serve the facility. STV provided design services for technology infrastructure throughout the building, lighting design throughout specific areas, a lighting control system capable of being networked together, a state-of-the-art voice annunciated fire alarm system, telecommunications infrastructure, and access control systems. The center’s design earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.