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07.14.2010
Unveiled> Richard Rodgers Amphitheater
Cooper, Robertson designs a new bandshell for East Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park
Cooper Robertson have designed a new amphitheater to Marcus Garvey Park.
Courtesy Cooper Robertson

Architect: Cooper Robertson
Client: City Parks Foundation
Location: Marcus Garvey Park
Completion: Spring 2011

A decade ago, when the City Parks Foundation first got involved in improving Marcus Garvey Park in East Harlem, the old 1960s bandshell was barely used. “We were the first to put any programming in there, and we did about 80 percent of the shows,” said David Revell, the foundation’s executive director. “Now it’s flipped, and the community does 80 percent of everything.” From the start, the bandshell could barely accommodate musical performances, let along the plays, dancing, and rallies that now take place.

The new stage will better accomodate a wide range of performances, from theater to dance, music to yoga.

Thanks to an unexpected windfall from the construction of the Second Avenue Subway—a nearby park has been taken over for CKCKstaging work—the MTA had to pay a $4 million mitigation fee to the Parks Department, which along with the City Parks Foundation decided that money would be best spent on transforming the bandshell into an amphitheater. With an additional $1 million contributed by the Rodgers Family Foundation, a budget—and a new name—was set.

Cooper Robertson undertook a series of planning sessions with the community to determine what was most needed. There was initial debate on focusing money in a specific facility, such as improved seating or audio-visual equipment, but in the end, it was decided spreading the money around would be best.

Suncreens, two of which double as lighting and sound anchors, were another important improvement.

Working within the existing contours of the site, the stage will be shifted forward, as it had been far from the seats, leading joggers and cyclists to use it even during shows. Black bricks matching the neighboring rec center will sheath the stage and a new multipurpose space that will house offices and rehearsal spaces that can also double as yoga and dance studios. Within the frame of the stage, stucco walls support a roof of acoustical concrete panels that appears to float thanks to translucent panels at the edge. Lighting and sound hookups will be incorporated into the roof and surrounding light poles. Demolition began in June with construction expected to take nine months.

Matt Chaban