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New fabric structures shade musicians and audience

Exteriors, Features | July 1, 2012 | By:

Fabric is rollin’ on the river.

As river towns go, Charleston, W. Va., saw its busiest times in the late 19th century and a decline by mid-20th century, but it is doing all right now. And, like many river towns, Charleston has recently rediscovered the benefits of a revitalized riverfront, including a narrow park and amphitheater on the sloping banks of the Kanawha River that winds through the city. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the Haddad Riverfront Park in 1993 as a regional gathering place for holiday and city festivals, music listening and river watching.

From its completion, the Haddad amphitheater’s concrete seating (which slopes down from street level to the river about a story and a half below) has absorbed the sun’s rays each day to radiate heat, making it unbearable for spectators long into the evening after sundown. The park also suffers from poor access and visibility as a consequence of a difference in elevation of more than 15m between street level and the river.

To solve visibility issues as well as provide shade and a cooler setting, Silling Assoc. Inc., working in collaboration with fabricator Birdair Inc., designed three separate fabric structures that define the waterfront slopes. These three structures are thematically and structurally interrelated and consist of a primary performance stage cover (a fabric barrel vault), a large cover (with a retractable component) over the amphitheater seating and a smaller, sculptural fabric structure downstream that marks the connection between the park and the downtown.

The new Schoenbaum Stage is the primary venue for the West Virginia Symphony and hosts various entertainment throughout the year. The stage canopy is designed to resemble a traditional stern-wheeler steamboat used on the Kanawha River throughout Charleston’s long history as a river port going back to the mid-19th century.

Spectators enjoying the amphitheater seating are covered by a 9m by 24m retractable fabric panel. When extended over the seating area, the fabric shade panel reflects heat to improve viewing comfort and retracts to allow visitors a view of fireworks displays during night concerts.

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