Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP

Bethel Performing Arts Center

Bethel, New York


Located on the all but mythic site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, this new performing arts center affords the concert-goer the virtually unique experience of an open-air amphitheater set within the natural features of a bucolic site. By emphasizing the existing contours, the amphitheater space, stage, and ancillary buildings are mutually arranged to follow the natural formation of the land. Several buildings currently on the site are adapted to new functions to minimize the impact of construction on the environment. Reworked circulation patterns for visitors connect all the buildings through footpaths and driveways.

From the parking areas, a path in the woods leads to a new pedestrian bridge over the entrance road and on to a complex that includes a performance space as well as a music museum, retail concessions, and visitors center. The path continues, rising to a natural ridgeline with panoramic views, framed by rock outcrops, overlooking a forested valley below and descending to the new Performing Arts Center comprising a 3,500 seat amphitheater, surrounded by overspill lawn seating for 14,000, arrayed in stepped terraces to either side of the main acoustical axis.

The seating and stage housing are cut out of the existing slope with a lightweight roof structure above the amphitheater itself. This canopy is carried on an arch with a 200 feet clear span so that the tubular steel “space-frame” roof touches down at only three points on either side of the primary seating. These V-shaped supports branch in two directions to carry the triangulated truss-form of the canopy above.

This canopy assumes the form of an undulating latticework structure hovering above the landscape that shields the main seating area from the elements and enhances the acoustics. The weatherproof membrane will be made of translucent anti-solar glass with timber louvers suspended beneath to filter the sun’s rays and admit natural light and conceal technical equipment.

During the day, the pavilion will reflect the sky and virtually blend into the clouds while at night the effect is reversed as the building glows from within. All of the elements of the pavilion—the dematerialized trusswork, the amphitheater, the stage housing, the lawn seating, and the natural contours of the site—constitute a unique and harmonious venue for the performing arts.

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