“This looks like the art school of the 25th century!”
According to Roger Klietz, founder and president of the School of Communication Arts (SCA) in Raleigh, North Carolina, that was the reaction one consultant had after seeing SCA’s new Monolithic Dome campus.
In 2002, Klietz and the SCA staff began planning new buildings to add to the ones they had been using since the school’s opening in 1992. “We were looking for something that made a statement, that reflected what we teach, which is creativity,” Klietz said. “So it had to be creative, and it had to be functional. Those were our two purposes.”
Touring Grand Meadow and Living Word Bible Church
An associate suggested looking at domes, made some rough sketches and began doing research on the Internet. A visit to Grand Meadow School District #495 in Grand Meadow, Minnesota followed. “When we did our tour, Grand Meadow was still constructing,” Klietz said. “Only two or three of their five domes were completed. But when I saw that construction — well, that kind of cemented things for me.”
Nevertheless, Klietz decided to inspect a second Monolithic Dome facility: the Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona. Its three-dome complex includes a 2000-seat sanctuary. “That really convinced me,” he said, “especially after meeting and talking with Architect Rick Crandall.”
Klietz presented his findings to SCA’s administrative staff. He said, “I brought it up and everybody else who was in command said ’Let’s do it.’ It took about 32 seconds to make that decision.”
In 2004, Dome Technology, Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho completed the construction of SCA’s three, two-story domes, each with a diameter of 120 feet and a height of 34 feet.
Designed by Crandall Design Group of Mesa, Arizona, one of those domes functions as a high definition digital theater with surround sound digital mix down. The other two contain pie-shaped classrooms arranged around glass enclosed technical centers.
SCA’s 280 students came up with a descriptive name for their new dome campus. They call it Digital Circus. Klietz said that both the students and the faculty like the innovative, futuristic look of Digital Circus — as did the consultant who called it the art school of the 25th century.
“This consultant we hired is the president of one major art school and the dean of another prestigious art school,” Klietz added. “We asked him to come down and give us an evaluation of the domes, of our program and of how we are doing. He sent back a glowing report. He especially liked the clear-span of the domes, the creativity of the design and the bold colors we used inside.”
In fact, the clear-span of a Monolithic Dome’s interior became a decision-making factor. “We wanted the clear-span,” Klietz said, “and it resulted in very little off space. When we computed everything, we found that we actually got more useable space with the dome concept than with a standard rectangle. So functionally the dome was a better buy.”
He said they saw other advantages as well. “We teach photography and audio and video, so we wanted the sound-proofing from the outside. We’re not interested in windows because studios don’t use windows. And, since we’re in North Carolina, we wanted the hurricane-proofing. We liked that idea. That was a definite plus.”
As for the domes’ acoustics, Klietz, who used to design large theaters, said that he and SCA’s technicians planned and installed their own system. In two of the domes, they used only partial partitions between the pie-shaped classrooms. They covered every bit of wall with ribbed acoustical theatrical fabric that they designed and made themselves. The ceilings, while not totally covered, also have rings of acoustical padding.
“That combination of the fabric and the way we sculpted the ceilings works just perfectly,” Klietz said. “Sitting in any one of the classrooms, you can see the ceiling, but a lecturer standing under the slightly closed portion of the ceiling and talking at a pretty high level will not be heard next door.”
Asked about the community’s reaction to the domes, Klietz laughed. “When we first started construction, lots of people came by wondering if we were building a water treatment plant. But now people interested in art and design just fall in love with the place as soon as they walk in the door. And now we have a unique sign and sculpture out front, so they definitely know what it is.”
Klietz feels that the domes have escalated SCA’s uniqueness. He said, “We were the first school in the U.S. to teach high-end computer animation and combine it with art and design. We were the first to come up with a curriculum for a two-year Associate of Arts degree. For our size, we have the largest number of graduates who get jobs with major studios. Others teach you the technical stuff — how to press buttons. We teach you how to think before you press the button. All that plus the domes makes us unique.”
Note: This article was first presented in October 2005.