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Playa Vista bandshell lights up the park

November 1st, 2011 / By: / Exteriors, Feature

Playa Vista Central Park is a 3.6-hectare public park built on the historic site of Howard Hughes’ Los Angeles private airfield, where the famous wood and fabric airplane, the Spruce Goose, was built. But this park holds a structure that impresses as much as the Hughes airplane, and even looks like it might take flight.

The Playa Vista bandshell is an outdoor amphitheater that serves as the centerpiece of the park designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA), a key part of a major mixed-use development of a live/work community in this west Los Angeles neighborhood wedged between Santa Monica and Marina del Ray.

The design of this dramatically shaped stage is the outgrowth of a tight collaboration between MMA and structural engineers Arup. Several structural forms were explored during the schematic design phase and the resulting final form is a masterpiece of structural elegance and architectural formmaking.

Two primary structural rings are supported by a latticework of irregular-appearing meridian steel pipe members that give the appearance, when wrapped in taut fabric, of a zany paper lantern. A 7m-diameter top ring supports an internal gutter ring clad in a sloped fabric skin and also supports the lighting fixtures. The 15m-diameter bottom ring is inclined and supported at four points: two hand like elements at the circular stage and two feet like supports below the stage level at the back. Beneath the stage are restrooms, storage and utilities for the venue’s various events.

The “lantern” cantilevers 15m above the concrete stage with a 3m backspan between the four points where the structure connects to the ground. According to Arup’s lead structural designer, Bruce Danziger, “The hand elements are sculptural forms that transform the [steel] pipe round sections into more rectangular shapes to connect to the reinforced concrete structure [that supports the fabric structure].” The stage’s reinforced concrete slab varies in thickness, creating smooth ceiling curves that cantilever over the basement spaces.

Tension structure fabricator FabriTec Structures designed and installed the PTFE-coated fiberglass fabric. The complexity of the design posed construction challenges. “Tensioning each panel into place to minimize any wrinkles was complicated,” says FabriTec principal Claude Centner. Despite precise shop assembly of the many curved pipe steel elements, tolerances with the glass fabric skin required the use of a 3D survey technique that measured precise workpoint locations on the steel framing, pre-assembled at the shop, disassembled for transport and reassembled on site.

Although the steel portion of the structure weighs 55 metric tons, with the collaboration between architect, structural engineer and fabricator, the Playa Vista park bandshell, says the architect, “floats lightly above the landscape, its glowing form visible throughout the park at night.”

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