An over-arching artwork

Nick Myall
18 May 2017

The Chrysalis covers a range of functions as it reconceptualises the role of an amphitheatre

95% of the time, the new Chrysalis Amphitheatre in Merriweather Park, Columbia, Maryland is not programmed for a specific role. Rather than waiting for official events, architecture studio MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY maximized the potential of the project brief with a design that provides an experience around the clock.

“We want to provide not just a destination, but an experience for the morning jogger, the Sunday walker, the afternoon stroller, as well as anyone who is actually there for a show,” Architect DPLG Marc Fornes says of the project. “It is an amphitheatre, yet it is first a pavilion in the park, an architectural structure, a tree house and a public artwork, ready to be engaged and activated at any given moment.”

What emerged as the major design opportunity of the project was to create an emblematic and experiential design while satisfying the standard box dimensions required by a theatre typology. The answer was developed as a collection of cascading arches that vary not only in size but function, and also provide a structural system. 

The largest arch frames Stage Alpha, dimensioned and structured for official events, including the performances of musicians and the requirements of their equipment and lighting rigs. Immediately adjacent to the main stage is Stage Beta, a venue for smaller and more community-based events, and which still provides a platform, equipment / lighting rigging and seating area, yet more appropriate for less of a crowd. The engineered terrain ascending to Stage B provides an architectural topography on which park visitors can sit, stand and play, and which can be activated itself as a more casual “Speakers Corners” stage set-up.

Wrapping around the back of the structure, further arches are locations for a truck loading dock, a grand staircase entrance, and balconies with views beyond, which during performances serve as the artist backstage area.

Light on its feet

To achieve a light and organic effect that suits the context of a dense wooded park, the studio took a structurally-oriented approach, building upon over a decade of research and development of lightweight structural shells that unify form, support and experience into a cohesive system. In particular, The Chrysalis further develops principles explored in its “little brother” precedent, Pleated Inflation, completed by the studio in Argeles, France in 2015.

The Chrysalis is similarly generated from a process in which a digital mesh is drawn flat, and all of its segments are transformed into a series of differentiated spring systems, then inflated. Constraints for pleating are added to the inflation protocol to provide extra structural depth.

Layered within the pleated shell is an exoskeleteon of steel tubing to support the heavy loads for performances inside, such as lights and other rigging. Dimensioned by Arup, 70 point loads within can each sustain 2,000 lbs.

Fabrication by Zahner

In between its aluminium shingles and steel exoskeleton, the project utilized ZEPPS, a patented interface developed by Zahner, and who also fabricated the 7,700 shingles from rolls of aluminium. Each shingle is painted one of four shades of green that is taken from nature and pushed to the point of artificiality. Together they amount to a subtle green gradient that renders The Chrysalis an iconic signal at the same time that it is camouflaged into its natural surroundings.

Live at the Chrysalis

At night The Chrysalis takes on a new life as a glowing concert venue with the structural capacity and flexibility to support the most significant of musical performances. The park boasts a rich musical heritage, having hosted acts from Led Zeppelin to Janis Joplin. The original venue within the park is the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an early work from Frank Gehry.

Technical information

Material: Aluminium Shingles,

ZEPPS Profiled Panel Systems,

Galvanized Steel Substructure

Dimensions: 64'H x 120'W x 82'D

Surface Area: 12,000 sq ft

7,700 Shingles; 45,000 Rivets


Commissioned by: Inner Arbor Trust

Engineer / Theatrical / Lighting: ARUP

Architect of Records: Living Design Lab

Specialty Fabrication: Zahner

Landscape Architect: Mahan Rykiel Associates

Civil Engineer: Gutschick, Little & Weber, P.A

The WAN Awards Small Spaces category is now open until 30th June.

Click here for more details or email

Key Facts

United States

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team