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The Shell amphitheater stuns on San Diego Bay

News | October 1, 2021 | By:

The stage of the Rady Shell incorporates a state-of-the-art constellation sound system designed to provide an exemplary sound environment for symphony musicians, while also providing the technical flexibility required for a variety of other performances. Photos: San Diego Symphony.

Years in the making—and a year delayed by the pandemic—the new summer home of the San Diego Symphony is finally showing off its first-rate acoustics to audiences eager to come together as a community to enjoy live music. 

Also serving as an iconic architectural feature on the San Diego Bay waterfront, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is the result of a collaboration between several leading design and construction experts including Australia-based Fabritecture, which developed and oversaw the technical design and fabrication of the structure, and Portland, Ore.-based GuildWorks, which installed the fabric structure in coordination with Fabritecture.

With a venue capacity of 10,000, the structure utilizes 32,000 square feet of PTFE, 8,700 square feet of PVC, and about 1,400 square feet of single skin ETFE. The roof cantilevers 15 meters from the front of the stage and can carry a load of up to 50 metric tons. The Shell accommodates an orchestra of up to 150 musicians and choir with a front-of-stage width of 32 meters and depth of 20 meters.

According to Fabritecture, acoustics are difficult to achieve in a lightweight structure due to the low mass of the fabric cladding. However, the design of the Shell allows the perfect amount of sound reverberation back to symphony members so that they can hear each other, and the feel is that of a world-class concert venue.

Fabritecture also contributed to the backstage support spaces, executive kitchen and related buildings on site including the box office and two dining pavilions.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Shell was first proposed 18 years ago by one of its major donors, Irwin Jacobs, founder of tech giant Qualcomm. In a statement to the newspaper, Jacobs said that the venue “exceeded our wildest imagination. Its beauty and proximity to the bay and the city are unique. What we are truly excited about is the acoustic magnificence of the venue, showcasing our marvelous orchestra and its guests with truly excellent sound.”

Fabrics: Chukoh FGT-800 PTFE; Serge Ferrari Soltis PVC; ETFE

Lead designer and architect of record: Greg Mueller, CEO and design principal, Tucker Sadler Architects

Performance shell design: Soundforms; Flanagan Lawrence; Expedition; ES Global

Sound: Shawn Murphy, sound consultant; Salter; Meyer Sound

Technical design and fabrication: Fabritecture

Installation: GuildWorks

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