Pacific Northwest Ballet Francia Russell Center

  • area / size 34,000 sqft
  • Completed 2017
  • Mithun was tasked to design the Pacific Northwest Ballet Francia Russell Center, a space for prestigious and thoughtful training for ballet students in Bellevue, Washington.

    Founded in 1972, the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) is one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States. The company of nearly fifty professional dancers presents more than 100 performances annually at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle. In addition, the organization operates PNB School, which has a reputation for nurturing dancers from as young as three-years-old into adult professionals with renowned technique and skill. The legacy of Pacific Northwest Ballet was threatened in 2013 when development plans for the Sound Transit East Link light rail expansion threatened to displace the school’s Eastside location. After years of fundraising and bringing the community together to help, in 2017 PNB found a new home within a historic, wood-framed warehouse set within an industrial district east of downtown Bellevue.

    The new PNB Francia Russell Center capitalizes on the forced relocation to create a refined space for dance amidst this industrial setting, and moreover, a vibrant hub for the local arts community. The design celebrates dynamic pairings: the building’s industrial history and the formal beauty of ballet, dancers’ backstage experience and their center stage performance. The space highlights the building’s beautiful timber structure and complements it raw metals and other natural materials. This is contrasted with clean lines, painted white organizational forms, and a highly modern aesthetic. Similarly, back of house spaces feature dimmer lighting while dance studios are suffuse with daylight.

    Students are immersed in the dance experience from the moment they enter the new Francia Russell Center. From young toddlers to adult professional dancers, the space plays to all human scales so each group feels comfortable and at home. For example, child-height windows invite curious young dancers and siblings to look into the brightly-lit dance studios. Each of the dance studios feature artistically arranged acoustic panels, mirrors, sprung flooring and triple-height bars to accommodate students of all ages. Studios are sized to enable accompaniment by a live pianist or other musician. No two classes or classrooms are the same.

    The design provides a transparent environment for students of all ages to learn, engage and develop their talent. Diverse spaces for stretching, instruction, schoolwork and gathering support the daily needs of students and their families. In all, the 34,000-square-foot center includes seven state-of-the-art dance classrooms, a community Pilates studio, a 150-seat performance classroom, library and public spaces. With full auditorium functionality, the 150-seat performance studio is a flexible venue for diverse events and programs—from dance recitals and plays to presentations—with an adjoining kitchen and social space. The PNB Francia Russell Center truly has and will continue to be a space for the dance community, and community at large to thrive together. More than a ballet school, the PNB Francia Russell Center is an Eastside gathering space dedicated to education, creativity and the shared joy of artistic expression.

    Design: Mithun
    Contractor: Sellen
    Photography: Kevin Scott