Bair Theater

Performing Arts Center Upgraded with Glass Façade in Billings, Montana

by Chris Fronsoe, architectural market development manager, East region, Vitro Architectural Glass

The Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Montana, is the sole performing arts center in the Northern Rockies region with the capacity to present shows by major touring theater companies and artists, and its role as a home for the theater arts is nothing short of essential.  In 2022, this beloved theater was carefully restored and expanded with accessibility upgrades and preservation efforts, as well as a stunning glass box façade featuring Solarban® 70 glass, formerly Solarban 70XL glass. 

Photos courtesy of PIMA, Nathan Satran Photography

         The Alberta Bair Theater was originally opened in 1931 as the Fox Theater and was partially financed by the 20th Century Fox Corporation.  As such, the 26,800-sq.ft., 1,390-seat theater functioned as a venue for both film screenings and regional theater performances.  Designed by architect Robert C. Reamer, the original theater boasted Art Deco detail throughout the building, such as crystal chandeliers, decorative stage elements, and sumptuous dressing rooms.  In fact, the Alberta Bair Theater was the last theater featuring the Art Deco style to be built in the United States by 20th Century Fox. 

         Nearly a century later, architectural firm Cushing Terrell in Billings led the renovation and expansion efforts that restored the theater to its former glory and ushered in a series of improvements to the original design that have transformed it into a more accessible venue for all. 

         On the building exterior, the envelope of the building has been pushed outward to provide additional space for ADA access, improved vertical circulation, and an expanded lobby and box office area.  A second addition, a 4,800-sq.ft., two-story, glittering glass box façade, gives the theater a clear curtain wall system that encourages a better visual connection to the theater’s interior.

         Architects at Cushing Terrell selected Solarban 70 Optigray® glass for this stunning addition, which has brought new life to the light gray, subtly moody façade of this historic theater.  With its transparent, color-neutral aesthetic and unprecedented solar control and visible light transmittance (VLT), Solarban 70 glass strikes just the right balance between form and function.  Due to its clarity, consistency, and solar control performance, Solarban 70 glass has become a commonly specified triple-silver-coated glass, with more than 300 million sq.ft. shipped in the past ten years.

         When coupled with conventional clear glass in a 1” insulating glass unit (IGU), Solarban 70 glass boasts a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.27 and VLT of 64%.  Additionally, Solarban 70 glass can be combined in an IGU with any tinted glass from Vitro® Architectural Glass.  In this case, Solarban 70 glass was coupled with Optigray glass from Vitro to accomplish a specific aesthetic.  Optigray glass is designed to eliminate the green cast typically found in conventional clear glass formulations and produces a warm, ultra-neutral, light-gray aesthetic that brings crispness to vision glazing.  Specially formulated to function as a substrate with solar control low-e coatings, Optigray glass delivers advanced solar performance when paired with solar control low-e glasses such as Solarban 70 glass.

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