By Delle Willett
Last fall, the San Diego Symphony Board of Directors unanimously voted to begin construction on Bayside Performance Park.
With the first concerts scheduled for summer 2020 (this could change with the coronavirus) the new venue, now known as The Shell, will provide San Diego with a world-class destination that serves year-round as an event space and landmark waterfront attraction.
Located in the Port of San Diego’s Embarcadero Marina Park South on San Diego Bay, the new upgraded park and venue will feature a permanent, highly innovative, architecturally striking and acoustically superior 13,000-square-foot outdoor stage that will allow the Symphony to present a wider variety of musical presentations and enrich the patron experience with improved sightlines, an expanded concession area and permanent restrooms.
The Shell is the creation of an international, award-winning team, including Burton Landscape Architecture Studio of Solana Beach. Burton Studio created the plans that will introduce refined site detailing and regionally appropriate landscaping to frame the venue and provide a cohesive visitor experience throughout the embarcadero Marina Park South.
Matthew MacLeod, a partner at Burton Studio, said the team enjoyed the process of creating a unique family of details for this project.
“We worked hard to incorporate the themes of music and composition into the park’s new physical identity,“ he said. “These concepts provide a natural organizational framework for the space while also distinguishing it as a unique open-air venue on the west coast.”
Burton Studio has configured the renovated space with two special features that will speak to that idea.
The seating area will be terraced in a rhythmic fashion and shaped with a series of concentric arcs in order to elevate patrons and dramatically improve sight lines to the stage. The position of these new terraces also improves views of the surrounding bay and downtown skyline, allowing the venue to better engage its context and punctuate its waterfront location.
Additionally, Burton Studio accented the venue perimeter with a sequence of internally lit customized benches. The benches will form a cadence of subtle beacons that welcome visitors and guides them along the new waterfront promenade with a soft glow.
Burton focused the site design not only on the performance venue but also on an ethos of continuous public access and engagement with the rest of the park space.
“The new pavilion will be a remarkable addition to the San Diego skyline, and we wanted to make sure that it is very approachable,” explained MacLeod.
A new twelve-foot-wide pathway carries pedestrians along the water’s edge and completely around the performance venue. In order to strengthen the promenade’s connection to the southeast portion of the park, they reconfigured the plaza space adjacent to the fishing pier to provide a more generous circulation path along the water.
The path now flows more smoothly to the other park amenities, which include new fitness stations, an improved basketball court, picnic tables, and a number of new shade trees.
“Looking at the venue itself, we endeavored to create iconic moments on the site that relate directly to the sculptural pavilion architecture,” said MacLeod.
The rear portion of the pavilion embraces the “sunset steps,” which are accessible from the promenade on the west end of the site. These wide steps are open to the public and provide an exceptional waterfront opportunity to watch the sun sink below the horizon beyond our beautiful city.
On the opposite end of the venue space Burton Studio took advantage of an opportunity afforded by the terraced landform of the venue seating area. They introduced a classical dual staircase that provides access to the top of the seating area and is a sculptural backdrop in itself for a new plaza space. “Our hope is that this space becomes equally important as a stage for San Diegans to host gatherings, weddings, and to create memories that are rooted in this space for years to come.”
As MacLeod explained, the waterfront location of the venue, while dramatic, is not unprecedented. What is unique is the way the space opens to the outdoors and its neighboring architecture. The San Diego climate provided a rare opportunity for the consultant team to develop this space into an incredibly connected experience along the waterfront.
The bay will be a shimmering backdrop for guests seated within the venue as well as a textured mirror for the architecture when viewed from the water.
The proximity of the San Diego skyline and the bobbing ship masts in the marina will add to the drama of the venue and further identify it as uniquely of this city.
“Upon completion, The Shell will truly be San Diego’s answer to the Sydney Opera House: a cultural icon and testament to our city’s commitment to the arts,” said MacLeod.
Burton Studio is an acclaimed landscape architecture practice that has crafted numerous iconic projects across the globe. Their portfolio includes several significant destination projects, including the Montage, Laguna Beach; Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora; and Msheireb, the recently transformed central district of downtown Doha, Qatar.
— Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.