This year the third-year architecture competition requested students to design an open-air theatre at the Duck Pond on the Virginia Tech Campus. Students were asked to not only consider the architectural nature of the project, but also the surrounding areas and landscape. 

This year the jury decided to forgo awarding first, second and third but instead chose general winners; those students are Sam Melnick, Jake Swartz, and Lelan Yung. The jury also chose four honorable mentions: Benjamin Sturkie, Matthew Schrage, Lukas Feldkamp, and Adam Alford.  Below are their project descriptions:

Sam Melnick

“While this project is conceived to be post-COVID[19], it plays off of the new digital connectedness we gained from attending lectures and performances all over the world because of it. This amphitheater challenges the idea that once performances return to the physical world they will only exist there. On the unlikely location of the outdoor stage, a streaming camera is hung from two elder trees and the frame of the roof, becoming the only ornamentation of the proscenium. This setup invites Blacksburg to the site and the rest of the world to temporarily take part of the Duck Pond into their homes, maintaining the digital connections we have formed while giving them a concrete object in the world.”

Jake Swartz

“This open-air theater centers around nighttime and the idea of multi-scale interactive performances. Viewers in the stadium seating have a different experience from those on the balconies to those viewing from the lawn outside the main structure. The idea was to keep things temporary, so scaffolding was chosen as the main building component. Media pylons tie back to the imposing presence of the pylons on campus while displaying live performances. In addition, they leave a sense of heightened tension and buildup to the performance with a digital countdown. This entry also explores the processional aspect of ...performance. The backstage becomes the entry for visitors, as they must walk through a two-way mirrored entry exposing the behind-the-scenes. A multi-story glass catwalk expands the typical idea of the main stage. The cold metal structure and large screens juxtapose the surrounding landscape.”

Lelan Yung

“To maintain the peaceful surroundings of nature and tranquility, a flexible and storable fly loft roof [that] can retract when not being used to avoid impediment on the surrounding skyward view. Without a roof, the stage can be used for other informal purposes, democratizing the function of performance. In addition, a pathway behind the stage extends to point to the Drillfield and Pylons, grounding an axis as an explanation of construction. The existing amphitheater structures from the 1930s will be respected and a restored curved retaining wall will offset the new stage construction as a sub-stage. Audience seating will be left open and free for the accommodation of various performances and gathering events.”

Benjamin Sturkie (Honorable Mention)

“The underground theater provides an atmosphere like no other. There are minimal distractions from the outside world. The audience is fully invested in the activity on stage. This space also provides an intervention above ground in the original theater space. The above-ground interventions act as a gathering space for any visitors in the area. The skylights that create these interventions not only allow natural light to come in but also act as acoustic instruments. They are a bridge between the activity above and below. They are embedded, drilled, and cantilevered into the landscape to provide a completely open interior space. The atmosphere of the theater is in full effect underground and exhumes energy to the inhabitants above.”

Matthew Schrage (Honorable Mention)

“My project used existing site conditions as its primary driver.The depression of the land, the stone stage wall, steps, and retaining walls, the decked seating, and the site’s location on axis with campus all clearly indicate a once-deeply valued cultural gathering place. My proposal seeks to reinstate the site’s community value by formalizing the approach, restoring its stone elements, utilizing its existing programmatic layout, and defining light and open atmosphere paralleling its natural context. The central spine that connects the circular wood frames marks a perpendicular to the Drillfield axis, acting as an appendage to campus. Successive wood arches incrementally decrease in radius as they approach the stage and culminate at the proscenium arch, a response to the V-shape of the site. The project adds a new chapter to the theater’s long history, reinvigorating it into a valued cultural space.”

Lukas Feldkamp (Honorable Mention)

“In this proposal, the site has evolved, and a place is formed. A frame to view the stage, the sky, and the surrounding topography. The stage, constricted by dimension, finds a way to become modular: something to serve different performers, seasons, and time of day. Stone benches emerge from the topography, stone from the earth, people gather once again. 

Site strategy and craft are honed through iteration, sketching, and physical modeling. More than a few site visits: each time the importance of the site increases. The site deserves respect: the axis, the history, the community, and history. With the draw of the pencil, graphite belongs to the paper. The authenticity of the site leads to the authenticity of means: the scale of the hand of utmost importance.

On the board, an inverted drafted perspective engages the farthest scale, and the board stands out. The organization of model pictures engages a more personal scale, the thinness of the frame exposed once the viewer makes the effort to engage.”

Adam Alford (Honorable Mention)

“This project focuses on the reactivation of public space over a series of design phases.  Modular scaffolding, a common building material, allows for the expansion of the form over time. This simplicity in form is complemented by non-textual graphics explaining the integral aspects of the design. The result is a modern take on the amphitheater that rejects the idea of a finished proposal.”