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The Chrysalis, Columbia, Maryland

Sculpture, pavilion and multi-use stage

The Chrysalis is a sculpture, a pavilion and a multi-use 5,000ft2 stage within Merriweather Park. The space and systems can host events of between 100 and 10,000 people or informal small events and picnics.

The owner, Inner Arbor Trust, sought to sponsor a whimsical form in the park that was at the same time a permanent outdoor structure and world-class stage. We helped achieve that dream, providing an array of disciplines and working with Marc Fornes & THEVERYMANY (an established freeform artist) and Living Design Lab (as architects of record).

Performance requirements were the starting point. Our acoustics, AV, lighting and theatre consultants set the critical technical parameters for the range of performances required. This defined the structural needs for THEVERYMANY to sculpt a parametric form around. A constant, collaborative modelling and testing process allowed the design parameters to be achieved, within and below an unconventional enclosure space.

Structurally, The Chrysalis is made up of 12 unique, warped “spines”, which support and follow its shape, like a leaf’s veins. These spines were covered by our façade trade partner - A. Zahner - with a 12,000ft2 skin of 7,700 aluminium shingles. Realising the complex form required extensive collaboration between the design and construction team.

We worked with the design team to find and test sites within the park. The installation is nestled within woodland, but also needed a lawn able to seat up to 10,000 people, all of whom need a clear view of the stage.

The lighting of Merriweather Park guides visitors; it breathes life into the park’s features. Our design for the Chrysalis’s LED lighting is integrated into the structure. Triggered by motion, concerts, weather and sound, the lighting animates the form with life and personality.

Initially conceived as a pure compression shell of shingled metal plate, a steel frame was introduced during the design process to support the Chrysalis’ unique skin. Using the frame lowered costs, increased constructability and stability. 

The steel frame follows the Chrysalis’ distinctive, pleated, cladding, adding a visually-striking element to the structure. The frame uses over 1,000ft of curved structural pipe, forming 12 unique arches. We used a series of tests and analyses to confirm the frame’s stability, particularly given the Chrysalis’ complex form and outdoor location.

Thanks to close collaboration between the entire team, the steel frame ultimately only took three weeks to erect on site. It is ultimately clad in 81 unique panels and finished with 7,700 anodized aluminium shingles.

Meeting performance needs

Particular power, lighting and theatrical rigging requirements are essential in a venue hosting performances of a certain size and scale. Neither the cuboid ‘grid’ typically used to house this infrastructure, nor the structural requirements needed to support it were a natural fit with the curving, organic vision for the Chrysalis. We worked to understand both in detail, so that the sculptural form could be designed to accommodate technical infrastructure, without sacrificing the organic vision. 

Most of the time, the Chrysalis will be an art installation rather than amphitheatre, so it needed to be possible to set-up and take-down this equipment easily. When not needed, it is stored under the stage along with the control systems and other equipment.

A resting creature in the forest

Lighting is used within Merriweather Park to help visitors find their way and to breathe life into its features. Our lighting design animates the Chrysalis, which appears to grow right out of the ground. 

Through both complex programming and LED technology, we have given life to the Chrysalis. The rhythmic, varying intensity of the lighting gives the impression that it has lungs – visitors have they sense that they could disturb a creature resting in the forest.