Fans of post-Bilbao Frank Gehry who head to Merriweather Park in Columbia, Maryland, to see the architect's recently restored Merriweather Post Pavilion might be disappointed: the wood-clad structure, completed in 1967, is much tamer than his later buildings. Fortunately they can find solace in The Chrysalis, a striking green amphitheater by MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY that sits like a scaly green creature in the same park. THEVERYMANY answered a few questions about the building that was completed just a couple months ago.
Client: Inner Arbor Trust
Designer: MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY
Design Principal: Marc Fornes, Architecte DPLG
Architect of Record: Living Design Lab
Structural Engineer: ARUP
Landscape Architect: Mahan Rykiel Associates
Lighting Designer: ARUP
Civil Engineer: Gutschick, Little & Weber, P.A.
Specialty Fabrication: Zahner
Building Area: 8,000 sf
Project Dates: Completed April 2017
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
The commission was received by responding to an invited RFQ (Request for Qualifications). During a visit to our studio as part of the interview, great interest was taken in our Pleated Inflation project in Argeles-Sur-Mer, France. Aspects of this project were further developed and pushed at The Chrysalis: the method of structural inflation, a pleated shell, a structure that is light on its feet, a pavilion playful in nature, multiple archways providing multiple places to slip in.
Please provide an overview of the project.
The Chrysalis is a building of civic significance for Columbia, Maryland. Its site, Merriweather Park, which includes the Merriweather Post Pavilion (an early building of Frank Gehry), boasts a rich legacy as host to prominent musical acts for several decades. The Chrysalis marks the kick-off of a masterplan effort to revitalize the park. Its design was based on providing a home not just for big-name musical acts, but a place that incites more informal engagement for the 95% of the time it is not officially programmed. This meant designing spaces that can also be appreciated on an individual level: cascading balconies, entrances quietly slipping between each supporting branch, and a stepped approach that can itself serve as stage and seating for shows as intimate as a family game of charades.
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
A main premise of the design is that though it is officially an amphitheater, it is most often empty, acting more as a pavilion. We wanted its presence to reflect these circumstances – more light in its landscape and approachable than heavy and singular as an amphitheater. The design is like a "big brother" to Pleated Inflation, drawing upon similar characteristics and pushing them further to a larger and more functional level.
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
The design of the building aims to achieve the effect of both signal and camouflage within the setting of the wooded park. The curvilinear geometry of the overall shell responds to the organic, natural setting in the which is situated, yet takes on a striking iconic form. The pleated shell’s aluminum shingles are four shades of green, distributed to achieve a soft gradient that becomes lighter as it rises. While the greens of the amphitheater are certainly at home among their tall leafy neighbors, they distinguish themselves through brightness and saturation pushed to the extreme. The trees and slope of the site were parameters for the size, shape and placement of the building’s planar mesh – the flat footprint which is "inflated" to create the arched shell, and from which any part branching out remains pinned to the ground and becomes a supportive leg. The engineered terrain of steps nestles into the natural slope of the hill, forming more seating and stage areas for casual socializing.
How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
The project evolved by becoming more programmatically ambitious, which in turn evolved its structure. It was initially supposed to be a very lightweight stage pavilion in a park. As it was developed, the project "leveled up." A basement was added, as well as the idea that the amphitheater could in fact provide multiple stages (including one where public could even sit inside). This development added constraints for theatrical requirements. In particular, accounting for the lighting loads, which required a strict and standard grid that did not follow the natural flow lines of the pleated shell. These load requirements ultimately required the addition of an exoskeleton for structural support. The lighting loads nor the exoskeleton originally existed.
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
The project was largely influenced by our ongoing research and development into custom computational protocol design, structural form-finding and the description of complex geometry into sets of planar elements.
What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?
An important part of the project’s construction is ZEPPS, a patented system developed by the specialist fabrication firm Zahner specifically for the unique shapes of curvilinear architectural projects. This system allowed the transition between our skin and exoskeleton. It solved the problem of connecting a surface that is pleated and curved to a network of tubes. The ZEPPS also provide a waterproof membrane, necessary for the lighting and equipment inside. The shingles themselves are aluminum, which is used most consistently by the studio because it is lightweight yet durable, and avoids the long-term issue of rust.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.