Amazing Urban Revitalization: The Creative Power of Collaborative Design
Masonic Amphitheatre and Smith Creek Pedestrian Bridge, by design/build LAB, Clifton Forge, Virginia, USA.
Revitalization, renaissance, resurrection: All of these words are used to describe the same thing — a process of physical and spiritual renewal. Too often, these are empty words. But sometimes someone comes along and makes them real. This is a story about that someone(s) – students who collaborated with a local community and industry to design and build an architectural work that is not only charitable, but educational in its essence.
This story wouldn’t be possible without design/build LAB, a project-based experiential learning program that successfully killed two birds with one stone: The program supported the urban redevelopment of the distressed community in the town of Clifton Forge, Virginia, and at the same time gave students the chance to gain lifelong practical experience through the creation of a new, high-quality built environment.
All of this happened within the framework of one project, which transformed a brownfield site into a major public park and gave birth to the Masonic Amphitheatre and Smith Creek Pedestrian Bridge.
Urban Revitalization and a Magnetic Public Space
As a significant part of the complete project, the Masonic Amphitheatre provides a much-needed performance space for the citizens of Clifton Forge. Like a magnet to the public, the interactive design captivates through its bold, innovative appearance.
The principal idea is that the architectural elements emerge from the landscape of the park. Steam-bent white oak walls curve to define detached pockets off-stage and transitional zones of varying privacy. In this way, the design of the amphitheatre resembles a series of extruded lawns and carved paths, which describe the park.
The whole amphitheatre installation comprises a stage with acoustic shell, a terrace overlooking Smith Creek, a well-designed seating area, and a covered booth fo controlling the sound and lighting. All of this predisposes the audience to experience a delightful social interaction.
Cozy wood benches invite visitors to sit under the soft shade of myrtle trees; others lounge on the green lawns surrounding the amphitheatre. The interior walls and ceiling of the shell are shaped to project acoustics naturally toward the audience.
The entire design gives an impression of timeless contours, alluding to a forward-thinking community with new aspirations, new horizons, and new hopes.
Yet the value of the amphitheatre isn’t measured only by its fancy physical nature. It’s hidden value lies in its emblematic meaning – a public stage that supports cultural, entertaining, and artistic performances, with the sole purpose of bringing people together.
Natural and Elegant Presence
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The second phase of this amazing causal project covers the creation of the Smith Creek Pedestrian Bridge. This phase also includes parking space and a creek access. Again, the general idea of the design is that the built elements fuse with the landscape of the park, thus becoming one finished entity.
A bridge accessible to all
The bridge is a slanting platform equipped with ramps and stairs, tempting people to take a walk and contemplate the natural fascination of the surrounding landscapes. The entire bridge length is pitched to conform to the site’s significant elevation changes, giving the platform an unconstrained character.
The subtle presence of the bridge is further expressed through the thin-profiled deck and rail assembly. Another fine element is the Forest of leaning columns in the middle of the bridge, which serves as both a constructive support and a sheltered repose along the creek.
Link Between Amphitheatre and Downtown
Besides its aesthetic qualities, the basic function of the bridge is to fix a direct connection between the new amphitheatre and the downtown. The pedestrian bridge also symbolizes the reunion of the city, inspiring a strong sense of identity in the community.
Seamless Recreation in this Urban Revitalization
All around landscaped areas fill the park with new sensations of blissful recreation. The grass line along the creek, the adjacent butterfly garden, the beach, the series of grass lawns at the center — all contribute to the whole-hearted, astonishing end result of the project.
Besides the other virtues of the project, there is one more quality to be considered – sustainability. A substantial role is played by the digital fabrication, through maximizing structural efficiency and minimizing waste. In addition, the structure of the amphitheatre’s shell walls is comprised of prefabricated wood trusses.
Being environmentally conscious, design/build LAB used a slab, left from the preceding warehouse, as a foundation of the amphitheatre stage. From the other salvaged materials of the warehouse, a pavilion market was built in a neighboring town.
The Driving Force of Collaboration
Spreading their inspiration all over the region, design/build Lab team learned a priceless lesson — how to collaborate. As Keith Zawistowski, program director of design/build LAB, says, “What you’ve been able to accomplish is richer, because you did it together.”
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