Canadian Consulting Engineer

2022 #CCEawards Showcase: Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences

November 7, 2022

“An excellent example of what Canadian engineering can bring to the world.” – Jury

Buddy Holly Hall lobby

Photo by Casey Dunn, courtesy Entuitive.

Category: Buildings

Ambassador Award and Award of Excellence Winner: Entuitive

The Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences is a new venue in Lubbock, Texas, with two theatres, a multi-purpose room, a ballet studio and a bistro. It anchors the city’s cultural arts district as a community hub and provides a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Collaborating with the Lubbock Entertainment and Performing Arts Association (LEPAA) and a team of architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals, Entuitive’s structural engineers designed the building’s 2,297-seat Christine DeVitt main theatre and the main lobby, which features a monumental stair.

A cultural cornerstone

Lubbock was devastated by a tornado in the 1970s and sections of downtown have lain barren for decades. The Buddy Holly Hall, named for famous 1950s singer who hailed from the city, was a community-led project meant to promote arts and culture.

The roots of the project extend back to 2011, when a group of citizens identified the need for a new performing arts space. This led to the formation of LEPAA, with the primary goal of raising private funds to design and construct the building. In addition to raising funds for the US$158-million project, LEPAA owns and operates it.

The building brought together the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Lubbock, touring productions and the Lubbock Independent School District (LISD). With LISD included in a licence agreement as a first-priority user, students have access to educational opportunities to interact with professionals in cultural fields.

Shaped for success

The theatre features an audience chamber with a large main level and three horseshoe-shaped balconies designed to enhance proximity to the performers on stage. Steel rakers cantilever up to 10 m from columns placed just behind the theatre’s back wall to allow unobstructed views.

Vibration on the balconies was a major consideration, given the substantial cantilever length of the rakers. To ensure audience comfort, Entuitive used the horseshoe shape to its advantage by adding a steel tension ring member near the front of the balcony.

The shape of the balconies also required bending each of the steel members for the risers to follow the curvature of the space. On the lower balconies, standard beam sections were used for the risers, but on the uppermost balcony, the height of the risers meant they were not practical. An innovative custom steel ‘Z’ profile was created—not only curved, but also varied in height to follow the profile of the seating—by bending angles for the top and bottom of the profile, then welding on a variable-height steel plate for the web.

Buddy Holly Hall

The exterior reflects the colours of the surrounding landscape. Photo by Casey Dunn, courtesy Entuitive.

The three-storey main lobby includes a large gathering space. The staggered balconies are a point of interest with a playful feel, but the most striking element is the monumental stair, which is more than 17 m tall and uses 130 tonnes of steel. The thin outer edge and glass guard contrast with the solid white plastered central spine, which supports stair treads that cantilever up to 4.2 m. To form the helical shape, the steel was flexed in two directions through induction bending.

The long spans and slender profile were particularly vulnerable to vibrations from human activity. After finite element modelling and analysis, a tuned mass damper (TMD) was added on the second and third flights.

The seen and the unseen

Visitors will notice the exterior of the building and how it reflects the colours and shapes of the surrounding landscape, but they might not appreciate the complexity of the dynamic elevation at the main entrance.

The exterior wall has a distinct shift inward at the upper levels, driven by esthetic and acoustic considerations. To keep the lobby space column-free, a 41-tonne truss, spanning more than 45 m, was introduced along this line. Hangers extend down from the truss to support alternating bands of windows and cladding, as well as a sloping roof that pushes out from the line. This roof is supported by columns along the curtain wall below, before cantilevering past to provide a sunshade to the curtain wall.

Round, slender, architecturally exposed structural steel hangers emerge indoors from below the sloping roof and extend down to support one end of custom tapered steel plate girders at Level 2. These girders then cantilever out 7.6 m to create the main entrance canopy, a modern take on the marquee.

The hall also offers an outdoor performance space, The Bird’s Tail, which is supported by one central column that splays out at four acute angles.

Buddy Holly Hall theatre

The main theatre features three horseshoe-shaped balconies. Photo by Casey Dunn, courtesy Entuitive.

Most buildings in Lubbock are opaque or have massive air-conditioning (A/C) loads, as heat gain is overwhelming in summer. Targeting LEED Silver certification, the hall’s façade counters temperature fluctuations and significantly reduces cooling loads. Glass fibre-reinforced concrete fins contribute to shading the large expanse of curtain wall.

One of the challenges for Entuitive was how to support undulating fins that are 1.5 m off the wall while giving them the appearance of floating. The solution was to fit a slender steel element within their profile, with sufficient strength to support the fin weight and stiffness to prevent wind-induced fluttering.

Many steel sizes and profiles (e.g. circular and rectangular) were considered, but would not fit within the sleek architectural profile. Oval steel sections were chosen as the optimal shape for minimizing the visibility of the supporting steel, providing the required strength and maintaining the architectural profile.

The elements are supported by the sloping roof overhang above and vary in profile over their height, with three sections spliced together: a larger oval inside the fin and a smaller oval above and below it. The height of each architectural fin varies, so no two supporting steel elements are the same.

The facility opened in January 2021.


Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, Lubbock, Texas

Award-winning firm (structural engineer): Entuitive, Toronto. (Barry Charnish, P.Eng.; Tom Greenough, P.Eng.; Laura Young, P.Eng.; Matt Smith, P.Eng.; Sean Smith, P.Eng., PE; Ian Trudeau, C.Tech; Raj Thavarajah, Dipl. Arch. Tech.).

Owner: Lubbock Entertainment and Performing Arts Association.

Other key players: Garfield Public/Private (developer), Diamond Schmitt (design architect), Parkhill (architect of record and civil engineer), MWM Architects (associate architect), Crossey Engineering (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), Jaffe Holden (acoustics), Schuler Shook (theatre planner and consultant), Lee Lewis Construction (general contractor), Basden Steel (structural steel fabricator), Beck Steel (monumental stair fabricator).


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