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Sandi Simon Center for Dance at Chapman University

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects

Orange, California, United States

March 2023


Lorcan O’Herlihy (Architect & Principal-in-Charge)


Structural Focus / Maria Mohammed (Structural Engineer), Buro Happold (MEP Engineer), KPFF (Civil Engineer), Veneklasen Associates (Acoustical Engineer), Historic Resources Group (Historic Consultant


Collette Creppell / Chapman University


Eric Staudenmaier / Eric Staudenmaier Photography


This project is transforming the former packing house into a vibrant space of movement and light by amplifying the existing beautiful features while preserving the exterior identity of the culturally and historically significant shell. The adaptive reuse approach required precise planning and complex reimagining to transform the former packing house, from a one-story warehouse space with an uninhabitable basement, into a multi-level Center for Dance.

Opening the original floor of the former building allows light to permeate from the historic sawtooth roof, with its north-facing clerestory windows, to all levels of the Dance Center. This strategy reorganizes the interior into three tiers and refines the circulation spine into a vertically dynamic space. The three levels allow for student performances, studios, classrooms, and study spaces within the
vibrant circulation and encourage interactions and conversations to spill out of the studios into the space between classes, into the courtyard for warm-up, yoga, and social space, and into the larger campus.

This project celebrates unique elements of the existing building, including utilizing the original materials for the new design and incorporating new structural elements. Polycarbonate, selected for its reflectivity and translucency allows the architecture to reflect the ideas of movement and the ephemeral nature of performance embodied in the program.


The Sandi Simon Center for Dance is an expansive new education and performing arts center at Chapman University that redefines a former orange packing house. Comprised of a post-and-beam, heavy timber frame with a distinctive sawtooth roof, it represents a vernacular style significant to the region. This building is a vital step for Chapman University’s growing campus and creates a dynamic relationship with the latest student housing, the K Residence, and the campus at large.

For almost 50 years, The Santiago Orange Growers Association (SOGA) and its primarily Latino members shaped the community in this area. This building was therefore a notable touchstone for the context of the area’s community development. With careful preservation planning, documentation, and skillful design in the adaptive reuse efforts for this project, the SOGA Packing House’s role as a community centerpiece is to be preserved and celebrated in perpetuity. This full-circle approach benefits the new student community as well as provides heritage conservation of the historic Mexican community.


Retention and adaptive reuse of large historic buildings is the very essence of energy conservation and the most important component of a life cycle analysis that results in a solution that is much more sustainable than new construction. The rehabilitation of the Dance Center included other features to enhance continued building sustainability, such as natural light wells through to all three floors, precluding the need for electric lighting during the day; retaining and enhancing areas of exterior overhang, providing solar shading; reusing existing maple flooring as interior cladding; a three-story volume that allows for heat-stack passive cooling. Notably, important character-defining features were maintained throughout, such as the large open spaces, sawtooth clerestories, and exposed structural elements. Historic trusses were left exposed and operable clerestory windows have been retrofitted with actuators to expel heat.

In its new iteration, the now Sandi Simon Center for Dance has become the center of a new community. This project is an excellent representation of change over time by bringing back a vacant, historic building to be utilized by an entirely new generation. This thoughtful and strategic addition to campus bolsters the K-Residence Hall Courtyard, encourages social engagement and enhances the student experience by connecting them directly to the outdoor public space. The Center for Dance not only complements the latest developments in student accommodations, but it also strategically leaves space for future development within the existing shell of the historic building.

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