A Building That Sings

The new Nantucket Community Music Center achieves harmony in design

If ever there were a music school that made you want to break out in song, this is it. After three years of planning and construction, the new Nantucket Community Music Center at 56 Center Street is simply exhilarating. Belying its traditional Federal-style façade, built in 1843 by whale oil merchant Harrison Gray Otis Dunham, the interior achieves perfect harmony in the use of colors, textures, and lighting.

Conceived by Wendy Schmidt, with an interior design by Kathleen Hay and Joe Paul of BPC Architecture, this is not your father’s music school. The space was designed as much to inspire as it is to teach, and succeeds on so many levels that it is hard to single out a specific highlight of the building. The grace- ful central staircase, which was preserved through the devastating fire that nearly totally destroyed the structure last year, is set against a medley of soft hues of golden yellows, creamy whites, and light browns. Contrast- ing the traditional elements of crown moldings and a period fireplace, the space is filled with contemporary accents from Hay’s signature light fixtures, to Lucite framed audience chairs in a recital room featuring a baby grand piano.

On the second floor, it is clear that Schmidt was not afraid to push the envelope. The school features a library with a striking, high- gloss orange wall and trim paint, which on paper may have seemed out of place, but within the context of the space adds a per- fect note. The teaching studios off the main hallway feature porthole windows that pro- vide visitors a playful opportunity to watch students performing without compromising the sense of intimacy of the rooms.

The building was constructed with acoustical engineering to not only make the performance areas quiet within, but to prevent noise from impacting the neighborhood. Consistent with Schmidt’s focus on sustainable design, the building includes geothermal and rain- water catchment systems.

Perhaps the biggest surprise element of this building is in its basement. Exiting the elevator, one is immediately struck by the flush- board walls that are bathed in blue light, creating a nautical effect reminiscent of an aquarium. One giant porthole window provides a view of a computer classroom, which looks more like a NASA control center than a conventional music school. Another window provides a view into a state-of- the-art, professional recording studio worthy of any recording artist. The sophistication both in equipment and design of this room seems almost inconceivable that you are still on Nantucket.

The music school so impressed one family on the island who were considering moving to the mainland that they are now reconsidering their decision. The success of the Nantucket Community Music Center’s design goes well beyond its functionality; it extends to an ability to uplift. Like good music itself, this project stirs the soul.

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