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Sylvan Theater

Weiss/Manfredi + Olin


Trust for the National Mall


578,000 sq. feet


2015 P/A Awards

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Project Description

The new Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument will come as a great relief to visitors to our nation’s capital. No spot in D.C. is so central, yet so maddeningly in the middle of nowhere, as the wide grassy rise that leads to the famous obelisk. Working with the Philadelphia office of landscape architecture firm Olin, New York–based Weiss/Manfredi finally introduces a few amenities to this breathtaking but isolated patch, and all without disturbing the historic sightlines down and around the National Mall.

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.

-- Ian Volner

Project: Sylvan Theater, Washington, D.C.
Client/Owner: Trust for the National Mall
Lead Designer: Weiss/Manfredi + Olin, New York and Philadelphia
Weiss/Manfredi Team: Marion Weiss, FAIA, Michael A. Manfredi, FAIA (partners); Michael Harshman, AIA (project manager); Bryan Kelley, Noah Z. Levy, Allison Wicks (competition team leaders); Patrick Armacost, Constantine Bouras, Justin Kwok, Joe Littrell, Kerry O’Connor, Andrew Ruggles, Joe Vessell, Tsvetelina Zdraveva (additional team members); Bryan Kelley, Hugo de Pablo (project team)
Olin Team: Hallie Boyce, Skip Graffam (design partners); Greg Burrell (competition team leader); Jennifer Birkeland, Chris Landau, Vivian Martinez, Nick Mitchell, Henry Moll, Ben Monette, Laura Rennekamp, Jenn Richey-Nicholas, Danni Sinisi (competition team); Leigh Ann Campbell (project manager); Stephen Benz (green infrastructure partner); Ari Miller, Dana Williamson, Assoc. AIA (project team)
Structural/Civil Engineering: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Performance Planning: Fisher Dachs Associates
Mechanical Engineering: Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Acoustics: Threshold Acoustics
Sustainability: Atelier Ten
Performance Art Advocate: Sphinx Organization
Circulation/Planning: Space Syntax
History/Archaeology: John Milner Associates
Lighting Design: Fisher Marantz Stone
Artist: Studio Echelman
Signage/Wayfinding: Bruce Mau Design
Security: Ducibella Venter & Santore
Geotechnical Engineer: Geoconcepts Engineering
Blast: Hinman Consulting Engineers
Size: 578,000 square feet (site); 41,190 square feet (new construction); 7,600 square feet (renovation)
Cost: Withheld
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