Right Back to Where We Started, Only Better

Last week we spoke with Steve Quinn over lunch at The 5 Spot. Steve is the site development manager for Teatro ZinZanni and he told us about the design history of our new facility.
Once the ideal site for Teatro ZinZanni’s new home was identified, we hired Dave Rutherford with A R C Architects to design a new permanent structure for Mercer Street. Dave designed a smart, shining steel building that met all our needs and then some.

However, a building of this type was determined to be too expensive and at the end of the day the One Reel Board asked us to revisit the plan.

Teatro ZinZanni has a lot of experience with modular buildings. In San Francisco, Teatro’s dressing rooms, offices and wardrobe are comprised of stock units. We like them because they go together quickly, they are very durable and they perform well over time.

At first we took a look at modular buildings that come right off the shelf, triple-wides that we could modify. But our needs were so specific and idiosyncratic that we couldn’t make existing floor plans work, and then there was the added drawback of not finding any stock available…

At about the same time, TZ’s Artistic Director Norm Langill had a conversation with a local developer, who told us about HybridSeattle. HybridSeattle’s mission is to look for short-term solutions (like properties in high traffic areas that are in transition such as parking lots slated for development) and create “portable capital investments,” essentially moveable buildings.

Our current lease with Seattle Opera is for four years on the Mercer site. If at the end of four years, we need to move again, we can and we won’t have to reinvest in that construction.

HybridSeattle, in turn, told us about Transform, a construction company based in Bellingham, specializing in system-built, environmentally friendly buildings. Transform is a subsidiary of Cabochon Construction.. HybridSeattle was already working with Transform on a model project now on display for the next 90 days at Rainier Square.

Transform’s advantages for construction in a climate control setting where everything is automated really appealed to us because in addition to optimizing the number of cuts (and thus minimize waste), we could meet our schedule. So while we were prepping the site – draining, grating, pouring footings, Transform was fabricating the buildings.

The idea was to put the spiegeltent in the center and place the prefabricated buildings around the periphery. A R C Architect Dave Rutherford created new plans that sailed through the design review process with flying colors.

Once Willy Klessens, his son Johnny and his brother-in-law Derek, reassembled the tent, the buildings have been craned into place. We installed a total of five modular buildings: they comprise the bar, lobby and some office areas, about 4300 square feet total. They were driven down I-5 between Midnight and 4:00 a.m., never more than two per night. The longest ones are 68 feet long (the legal maximum) and they are all 13 feet tall, (the legal maximum). We craned them into position using Ness Crane’s largest moveable crane, 550-ton capacity. Now we’re in the final phase of on-site construction of the connecting structures – the main lobby, connecting hallways, etc.


Since 1998, Teatro ZinZanni has presented over 3500 shows to over 850,000 patrons in two cities over the past nine years. We regularly receive invitations from cities all over the world to come and perform. Moving back to Mercer has been the opportunity to create the most flexible venue possible so that we’ll be able to relocate easily and efficiently. In essence our new building is the 21st century version of our 20th century spiegeltent.

So what’s new?

Actually, very little. The tent is pretty much the same as it ever was, except that now it’s fully air-conditioned. We have programmed the surrounding building for a smoother, more efficient food service operation and for cast operations. In essence we took our old building at the Cadillac dealership and slimmed it down, made it more economical and efficient.

Here’s a picture of Steve hard at work on the construction site.



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