Architect Owen Richards uses a model to describe the look and space for a new amphitheater in Volunteer Park. 								               Photo by Brandon Macz
Architect Owen Richards uses a model to describe the look and space for a new amphitheater in Volunteer Park. Photo by Brandon Macz

The team behind the new Volunteer Park Amphitheater received a warm reception during the unveiling of its working concept design for the performance space on Wednesday.

Planned to replace the 1971 brick and concrete structure at the park and excite more performance companies to use the venue, the new amphitheater is the first major project undertaking by the Volunteer Park Trust.

The Volunteer Park Trust applied for a $20,000 Neighborhood Matching Funds grant 1 1/2 years ago, to perform a feasibility study and conduct scoping. Following completion of the study, VPT held public meetings to gather feedback in October and February, later receiving another DON grant to fund the conceptual design process, which started in May.

Built on the feasibility study, public feedback and a Tuesday meeting with Seattle Parks and Recreation staff, four fairly similar amphitheater designs were pared down to one preferred option on Wednesday.

“I think what we’ve been focused on is how we can think about the design holistically,” said Owen Richards of Owen Richards Architects, noting how many park goers use the amphitheater when performances are not taking place.

While the design was more fleshed out by the third open house, many of the preferences for the space identified during an earlier site analysis remained.

Walker Macy principal and landscape architect Chris Jones again addressed the decision to relocate the amphitheater space north of the current site, which alleviate the glare of the sun setting in the west, make the lawn space feel more open and allow for the restoration of an original section of trail that had been designed by the Olmsted Brothers.

Moving the space and restoring the trail will also activate the space, which can attract campers when there are no performances near the wooded area by the current amphitheater, said Emily Perchlik, associate designer at ORA. 

“It’s a dead space for people to hang out at, all day if they want to,” she said. 

The design team has scrapped an idea for a retractable roof on the amphitheater in favor of a translucent, scalloped “butterfly roof” that would be light and airy, but still provide shade for performers, Perchlik said. She added a retractable roof had raised concerns about maintenance needs. 

There will be a retractable partition at the back of the stage, which would make the amphitheater more of a public pavilion when performances aren’t taking place. The hope is the pavilion would be used for picnics, weddings and educational programs, Perchlik said. 

Richards addressed a question about fallen leaves on the roof, saying there would be a wide gutter and area for maintenance crews to walk along it for cleaning. He also teased an option for translucent solar paneling on the roof, which the team is considering. 

The roof is also designed to include lighting and speaker mounts, which should allow for better direction of amplified sound, a hot topic with the current and future amphitheater, especially with surrounding neighbors. 

Richards spoke at length about recent testings of performances conducted with the project’s acoustic consultant, which included the Seattle Peace Concert, Seattle Chamber Music Society concert and Vibrations Festival.

He said the Vibrations Festival was the loudest, but didn’t violate Seattle Parks’ rule that no sound be louder than 95 decibels for more than a minute. Last year’s Decibel Festival raised the ire of neighbors when it violated that rule and played on well into the night. Seattle Parks and Recreation planner Pamela Kliment assured residents during an October meeting for the amphitheater project that the department would not be renting out park space for that festival again. Richards said testing at the edge of the park picked up sound at 50-55 decibels during recent testing.

“You can hear what’s going on, but you couldn’t necessarily identify what song is going on,” he said. 

“It’s that bam, bam, bam that you hear and not the music,” said resident Dave Nordfors about issues with traveling bass noise. “Our experience is that the bass component of many of the performances, it reaches out into the community in a way that upper frequencies don’t. If you only hear the bass, it’s really annoying.”

Nordfors told the Capitol Hill Times he agreed with the determination that controlling sound from performances in the park is ultimately a matter of parks management enforcing its rules better. 

As for the design itself, “I think they’re going in the right direction,” he said. 

Jannie Spain said she likes having the partition removed when performances aren’t taking place, exposing nature through the space on either side. She suggested two rows of concrete seats at the amphitheater, as she finds there is a lack of seating at the park. While the performances are nice, she said she’s excited about all of the public use that would occur at the new amphitheater.

“I think it’s more exciting to have daily use.”