Masonic Amphitheatre in George Washington National Forest

The back view of the Masonic Amphitheatre in George Washington National Forest, Virginia, United States. (Photo credit: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

The project by design/buildLAB was a complete redevelopment of a post-industrial brownfield in George Washington National Forest, Virginia, into a public park and performance space. The built elements in the space are seen as sculptural forms standing out from the landscape. The park is a continuation of extruded lawns and carved paths that melded the urban surrounding with the site. The built elements consist of a stage with acoustic shell, a backstage with loading dock, green room and wings, a seating area, and a sound and lighting control booth.

Front view of the Masonic Amphitheatre featuring a wooden overarching shell.

The stage has an overarching shell as if lifted from the ground plane, with the purpose of naturally projecting acoustics toward the audience. Constructed from white oak walls steam bent into curves, secluded pockets of spaces are created offstage with zones of varying visibility, allowing performers to choose when to be seen by the audience.


The hidden but open backstage of the Masonic Amphitheatre

The backstage area is conceived as a terrace by the creek: an intimate space for waiting performers or a casual place for social mingling.Here, benches are designed to look as if they are pulled up from the deck. Rough-sawn white oak cladding absorbs some of the noise from the rushing creek water, allowing just the right amount of water notes to linger and reverberate on the backstage terrace without reaching the stage and audience.

Terrace by the creek

Wood benches provide for a seating capacity of 200 in the sloping gravel orchestra. The elevated lawns provide overflow seating for an additional 800. Sound and lighting is controlled from a covered oak booth at the corner of the seating area. Its shape and location provide maximum shelter for the control equipment with minimal impact on audience sight lines.

With sustainability and material re-use in mind, all new surfaces are pervious, minimising run-off to the delicate creek ecosystem. New floors are wood decking and new hard surfaces are compacted gravel fines. Lumber, including white oak decking, was sourced from locally sawn timbers. LED lighting results in extremely low energy consumption. Finally, the pavilion was designed to face ideal wind direction and shade trees were planted to limit solar gain and eliminate the need for mechanical cooling.

Also, an absolute majority of the decaying industrial warehouse that previously sat on the site was disassembled rather than demolished. Most materials, including pine timbers and galvanized cladding, were re-purposed to build a Farmers Market in a nearbytown. Materials like scrap metal and plastics, not suitable for re-use, were re-cycled.

Digital fabrication played an important role in the sustainability of the project by maximising structural efficiency and minimising waste. With the structure of band shell walls comprising of prefabricated wood trusses, the geometry of the trusses was first determined by cutting the 3D model every two feet on centre. They were then machine fabricated offsite by a wood truss manufacturer, minimising waste and time spent manufacturing.

All component parts are based on a 10’ wide module to facilitate prefabrication and transportation to the site.

The slopes and “pulled-up” benches create a interesting space for social interaction and play.

The redeveloped site provides much needed public space along the creek which is at the centre of town. The park and amphitheatre aim to strengthen an emerging arts-based revitalisation in neighbouring buildings and transform into a vibrant centre of spontaneous public gathering that promotes community, supports local businesses and nurtures the arts.


*All photographs are credited to Jeff Goldberg/ESTO