The Performance of Light

Exploring the Impact of Natural Light in the New UMass School of Performance

main atrium south wall

Date: Spring, 2016 – Spring 2017

Class: Graduate Thesis –  Kathleen Lugosch & Ajla Aksamija, UMass Amherst

Objective: Explore how natural light can be integrated with built form to create a “performance of light” in architecture. Integrate the existing departments of Dance, Music and Theater into a new school of performance.

Download Thesis Report (PDF, 192 Pages)

Download Boards (PDF)



The new UMass School of Performance combines the studies of dance, theater and music under one roof. The existing spaces that these departments occupy are scattered across five building on campus. Spaces for the all three of the departments are blended together over 5 floors and 160,000 square feet.

The building is organized with the primary performance spaces in the center, with a layer of circulation around them. Classroom, administrative and smaller performance spaces line the perimeter, to take advantage of daylight and views.

program table
performance space axon diagram
Performance Spaces
circulation axon diagram
Circulation Spaces
learning space axon diagram
Classroom and Administration Spaces

The small theater and studio theater share back-of-house facilities. The doors between them can be opened up to create a larger theater, or the door to the lobby opened up to create one large space.

independent theater configuration
Independent Configuration
double theater configuration
Double Configuration
open theater configuration
Open Configuration

Site and Plan

The building is located where Bartlett Hall currently sits. Bartlett is on the campus’s demolition list. The main building spaces are organized by the circulation patterns through the site. The large theater and smaller theaters share a common atrium running along the circulation axis.

existing buildings site plan

Location of existing department buildings on campus.

second floor plan

site plan

Light Carving

The academic atrium is a five-story space flanked by administrative offices on the south side, and the stage and fly tower of the main auditorium. Five strategically cut openings in the roof allow light to wash the wall with light during specific times of day. The path of the light is used to carve out the wall, and horizontal projections indicate the sun position during the 21st of each month, acting as a sun dial.

Play of Light

The main atrium utilizes an exterior aluminum screen with a varied square perforation pattern to filter light. The openings are larger around the perimeter, to let more light onto the walls below. An interior baffle system helps block light from reaching the steps below, while directing light onto the north, south and west perimeter walls.

academic atrium sun lit floor
main atrium north wall

night view
academic atrium night view
perspective section

Performance Spaces

Performance and rehearsal spaces are positioned for daylight and views. Large glazing areas allow for excellent views to the outside while allowing the public on the outside to see what’s going on inside. Seen below is the ballet studio (left) and recital hall (right).

ballet studio
recital hall


The building utilizes a heavy timber structural system, replacing traditional steel and concrete. Glulam beams and columns support a CLT/concrete composite floor system. Where large spans are not possible with timber, steel wide-flange beams or trusses are used instead.

MaterialVolume (CF)Captured Carbon (Tons)Emitted Carbon (Tons)Net Carbon (Tons)
 CLT 173,000 6,612 967– 5,645
 Glulam 49,0001,873356– 1,516
Steel 546 0 143 143
 Concrete 111,108 0 2,223 2,223
 Total –4,795*

*Amount in tons, of carbon sequestered by structural system. 4,795 tons of carbon is equivalent to 926 cars taken off the road for one year.

structure diagrams
structure axon drawing

Exploring the Movement of Light

The following video explores the movement of light from initial dance studies to the completed building.

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