Elevator doors were installed at 90˚ in a pair of new towers.

About ASU Gammage

Although on the campus of ASU, ASU Gammage, named in honor of former ASU president Grady Gammage, operates under a self-sustaining business model. Ninety percent of its funding comes from its Broadway series, and 10% comes from philanthropy. This self-sustaining business model, driven by private support and ticket sales with no funding from the university or the state, runs like a business but with the heart of a nonprofit.[3]

Approximately 25 firms competed to handle the renovation of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium (commonly known as ASU Gammage) in Tempe, Arizona, but only one was victorious. It all came down to doors — specifically, two doors at 90˚ placement encased in brown, cylindrical towers that were added to the early 1960s landmark, located on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU). Although Wright might be rolling over in his grave, the average person would never know the building had been changed. That's because the elevator towers, as well as the brick enclosures for new restrooms, fit with the structure's appearance, which has earned it the nickname "big pink wedding cake."

Issued in 2014, ASU Gammage's request for proposals required that any additions blend seamlessly with the architecture, as if they were part of the design from the start. The proposal submitted by Project Design Director Beau Dromiack of the Tempe office of RSP Architects, with elevator design by Motion Control Engineering (MCE) of Rancho Cordova, California, stood out for its ingenuity, Dromiack states. RSP had worked with MCE before on projects and knew it was up to the task. Dromiack observes:

"This building lacked a great deal in terms of vertical transportation. The challenge was to find a way to add a pair of five-stop elevators that would connect the different landings within the buildings. This is hard to appreciate without looking at the architectural drawings, which show a very complicated interior circulation of ramps, stairs and mezzanines, almost like an M.C. Escher drawing or something out of Harry Potter. It was very difficult to conceive and design elevators that would work in harmony with the exterior design, as well as connect on the interior with all the different levels."

The solution ended up being the addition of significant new components: the pair of brick structures to enclose the new restroom facilities and the elevator towers. Dromiack studied the building before designing the additions in an effort to "highlight the upgrades while staying true to the legendary architect's original design."[1]

It appears he was successful, with the project earning praise from Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Executive Director Janet Halstead, who said:

"The recent improvements, which appear to have been made very thoughtfully, will help ensure that the building will continue to serve the function for which it was designed. Ultimately, that is the best guarantee of its long-term preservation."[2]

The new elevators improve on a 1992-1993 upgrade that added ramps and an elevator that connected the main lobby to some, but not all, seating areas.[2] Now, people can easily reach all seating areas via elevator.

The elevators and restrooms are the result of a US$9-million fundraising campaign called Elevate & Alleviate to bring Gammage, which spokeswoman Kari Amarosso describes as an "economic driver and the place to go if you want to see a top Broadway show," into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and into the modern era. The campaign launched in March 2015 with a US$3-million initial gift matched by ASU. It wrapped up in December 2015, and construction began in summer 2016 and finished in early March. A ribbon cutting took place on March 15. As the conservancy director observed, the additions mark a new beginning for the beloved facility.

Wright's last public commission, Gammage opened in 1964, not only long before the ADA, but before equality between (or today, among) the sexes was seriously considered. Gammage debuted with a generous 40 restroom stalls for men and only 25 for women. That resulted in horrific lines and had been one of the main complaints about attending events there. The renovation added 88 women's restroom stalls, more than quadrupling the number.

"The challenges are hard to appreciate without looking at the architectural drawings, which show a very complicated interior circulation of ramps, stairs and mezzanines, almost like an M.C. Escher drawing or something out of Harry Potter."

— Beau Dromiack, project design director, RSP Architects

The restrooms are a huge part of the project, but the elevators — one each for the east and west sides — are a key part of it, as well. They travel to five floors — lobby, mezzanine, grand tier, promenade and balcony.

The new restrooms were added to the first and second floors. Each machine-room-less unit has a 5000-lb. capacity, speed of 200 fpm and, at nearly 52 sq. ft., is large enough to accommodate a stretcher.

The elevators connect seamlessly with the new restrooms.

The elevators integrate seamlessly with the restrooms, says Dromiack, who describes that as the most challenging and rewarding part of the job. "Basically, when you leave the elevator cabin and you're waiting to access the restroom, you feel like you're in the same room," he says. "It's a seamless, enhanced experience."

Besides MCE and RSP, those involved in the project included:

• Core Construction's Tempe office, general contractor

• Arizona Elevator Solutions of Tempe, installation

• Innovation Industries Inc. of Russellville, Arkansas, car stations with position indicators, emergency lights, buttons (including Braille), stop switches, etc.

• Hollister-Whitney Elevator Corp., safeties

• ELSCO, roller guides


[1] Kamezaki, Emi, "ASU Gammage Celebrates Renovations with Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony," ASU Now, March 15, 2017.

[2] Lengel, Kerry, "ASU Gammage Expansion Will Relieve Long Lines for Women's Restrooms," The Republic, March 15, 2017.

[3] ASUGammage.com/about

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