Sylvan Theater Wins 2015 Progressive Architecture Award
February 1, 2015
On the south side of the monument, as the hill slopes down, a sinuous two-pronged pavilion slowly peels away from the ground to open up a light-filled interior, with a program that includes a café, bookstore, bathrooms, and more. Making maximum use of the site, the designers have perched auditorium-style lawn seating for 1,100 in terraced rows atop semi-buried lobes of this pavilion. These rows of seats are in addition to a much larger south-facing amphitheater embedded in the adjacent hill, which can accommodate an audience as large as 10,000.
The plan also looks to the broader landscape and urban context in an effort to further integrate the new feature into its surroundings, creating a double-length allée of trees that extends the regular plantings of the eastern National Mall while providing some desperately needed shade on the otherwise starkly open site.
And there's an especially poignant significance to putting an amphitheater next to a monument like Washington's: Obelisks entered the language of Western architecture when the Romans absconded with one from Egypt as a trophy for their imperial Circus Maximus, site of bloody chariot races and gladiatorial games. Here, rather than making the obelisk a spectacle of conquest, the designers frame it as part of a truly democratic vista.
By Ian Volner