The Fisher Center for Performing Arts

Nashville, Tenn.

Best Project, Higher Education/Research, Project of the Year Finalist

Submitted By: R.C. Mathews Contractor

Owner: Belmont University

Lead Design Firm: Earl Swensson and Associates

General Contractor: R.C. Mathews Contractor

Civil Engineer: Catalyst Design Group

Structural Engineer: Ross Bryan Associates

MEP Engineer: I.C. Thomasson Associates

Subcontractors: Akustiks, Theater Projects, CDC, RBLD, Hodgson Douglas, Inman Food Services, Smith Seckman Reid

The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts is a venue that stands out even in the Music City: a state-of-the-art performance hall with a classic design offering two recital halls, 12,000-sq-ft grand lobby and 1,700-seat performance hall. Belmont University set out to create the finest performing arts center on any college campus, specifically designed to host a wide variety of events from theatre and opera to acoustic and amplified performances.

That’s something R.C. Mathews Project Manager Scott Morgan says made the project so special: because the university is using the space as a learning lab, versatile elements have been built into the facility to optimize the acoustics, whether for a theatrical production or electric guitar.

“You could almost call it a once-in-a-lifetime project, it’s so unique,” he says. “It’s almost like a musical instrument.”

It was completed in four years and five days, a feat achieved with construction and design teams working hand-in-hand to mesh constructability with aesthetics. That includes combining Building Information Modeling (BIM) to work through complex coordination issues and precisely coordinating compound sloping, post-tension slabs and multi-segmented trusses while MEP coordination took place simultaneously allowing prefabricated trade work to show up on time even as material lead times posed a significant challenge for contractor R.C. Mathews.

The Fisher Center for Performing Arts

Photo courtesy Hall + Merrick

“It’s just so well executed, it’s unbelievable,” said one judge in their review of the project.

Hydro-mobile and scaffolding operations were required for the detailed masonry and EIFS tasks on the exterior of the performance hall, and its ornamental ceiling is made up of metal panels that crews found would vibrate and ring like tuning forks. Crews had to quickly resolve the issue, experimenting with reinforcing the panels or using alternative materials, ultimately deciding to coat the panels with truck bed liner, which successfully eliminated the resonance.

“We ended up fabricating the panels and pretty much shut down the local Line-X dealer for about two weeks,” Morgan says. “They turned out amazing.”

Just before the building opened, Morgan says the team was able to hear those acoustics on display as a violinist played. Seeing everyone’s reactions was very satisfying, he says.

The Fisher Center for Performing Arts

Photo courtesy Scott Morgan

R.C. Mathews doesn’t have a large portfolio of performance venues but has a long relationship with Belmont and the Earl Swensson architect team, Morgan says. They all work together so well, creating an atmosphere where if there’s a problem, everyone is comfortable with each other and can put their heads together for a resolution.

“That really is what makes a project like that so fun to be on,” Morgan says. “You’re motivated to come work on it, and everybody wanting to go above and beyond, putting in 110%.”

Opened in September 2021, Fisher Center not only serves Belmont’s students as a learning lab for production, lighting and building management, but as a world-class performance venue that plays host to performing arts communities locally and from across the globe. Those include recent acts like Chris Stapleton and Sting, who performed at the Fisher Center Sept. 16 for a tribute to Vince Gill broadcast on CMT.