On a recent wintry evening, a crowd of sleekly dressed dance lovers filtered into an elegant new auditorium to catch a robust performance by the Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.
That same night, students dressed in jeans and sneakers rode the elevator up to a penthouse cabaret to watch colleagues sing songs of angst and read poems of self-discovery.
Meanwhile, a mix of theatergoers stepped into a black-box theater to behold a student rendition of a lyrically inspired play, Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."
These performances, however, were not scattered in venues across the city. Instead, they unfolded in a single, sprawling edifice, the University of Chicago's new Logan Center for the Arts, at 915 E. 60th St.
Arts complexes that hold multiple venues are nothing new, of course. But the Logan Center, which opened in the fall at a cost of $114 million, looks, sounds and feels like none of them.
Its shows unfold below ground level on the stage of the Performance Hall and several floors up in the aerie of the Performance Penthouse — and points between. On certain occasions, poetry readings and lectures and whatnot bubble up in the cafe and corridors, in classrooms and performance labs, and — weather permitting — in the courtyard. And film screenings in two state-of-the-art rooms are several notches more civilized than what you'll find at the neighborhood multiplex.
In essence, this multipurpose center holds attractions at practically every turn, including a formal art gallery, plus impromptu exhibition space on corridor walls, windows and makeshift display spaces.
Not surprisingly, the place can be a bit disorienting to navigate, and not only because it accommodates so many arenas — as well as classrooms and rehearsal space — inside its 184,000 square feet. Equally important, there's nothing symmetrical or predictable about the design by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien (their firm has won the 2013 American Institute of Architects Architecture Firm Award).
Essentially, a vertical tower of 11 stories (including space underground) stands perpendicular to a horizontal base. Inside, all manner of twists and turns await.
So whether you enter the Logan from the north, on East 60th Street, or from the south, off South Drexel Avenue, a maze of possibilities lies ahead. Some security guards posted at the entryways have proved better informed than others on what's happening where, but be assured of this: The adventure of prowling the place is eminently worth it.
The beating heart of the Logan is the Performance Hall, at 474 seats the largest venue in the complex. Its steeply raked seating affords excellent sightlines, while its acoustics so far have served live performances and recorded music well. What's a bit confusing, though, is that you enter the Performance Hall either from the main floor lobby or from one level down, depending on how that evening's performers have chosen to admit the audience. Either way, though, the Performance Hall flourishes as a multidisciplinary venue accommodating music, theater, dance and film.
Also on the first floor: Theater East, an intimate, 105-seat room mostly used for student theatrical performances; and Theater West, a flexible black-box space that seats 130 to 170 and welcomes everything from small-ensemble theater to chamber jazz.
It's difficult to envision a movie theater much more conducive to serious viewing than the Logan's Screening Room, a slightly raked space on the second floor that seats 128 in two distinct sections. Accommodating 35 mm, 16 mm, 3-D, digital and several other formats, the Screening Room stands as a Logan gem — one tucked away but well worth seeking out.
Unlike virtually any major Chicago-area arts center, the Logan takes visitors behind the scenes, in the form of an immense workshop — partly walled in glass — where students build theater sets, create sculpture and work in other visual arts. As you stroll the Logan's first and second floors, there's no missing the action.
Some visitors might find this distracting. I find it engaging, a pulling back of the curtain that reveals the craft and sweat involved in producing art that will emerge elsewhere in the building.
Yes, it will take Chicagoans a while to learn the place, just as it will take time for the administrators of the Logan to figure out exactly how best to use, program and develop it.
But, by any measure, the arrival of the Logan stands as a major event — not just for the university and for Hyde Park but for all Chicago and beyond.