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The design of the 6,500 seat amphitheater is inspired by a vintage guitar amp.
Matthew Carbone

Arguably no other American city is as closely linked to music as Nashville. But until recently its downtown had no outdoor concert venue—just an endless string of honky-tonks.

That changed dramatically this summer when the city opened the Ascend Amphitheater on its new 11-acre West Riverfront Park, a former brownfield site on the Cumberland River.

“It’s what Nashville has needed for a long time,” said Craig Hodgetts, principal at Hodgetts + Fung, which designed the structure with Executive Architect Smith Gee Studio. “It was the last piece of the puzzle.” Other recent additions to the city include a new convention center and sports arena.

In developing the design of the 49,000-square-foot project, which seats 6,500 including 4,000 lawn seats, Hodgetts first suggested an installation inspired by the area’s majestic steel bridges and their hulking stone abutments. He then suggested a form evoking the giant barges that make their way down the river. Neither idea took with the client, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

Matthew carbone
 

What did catch his fancy was a sculptural, partly tilted, metallic proscenium inspired by a 1962 Gretsch guitar amp. The building is made up of a steel truss structure topped with a cantilevered standing seam stainless steel roof and supported by a limestone podium, which contains the stage and back-of-house spaces.

“He went ballistic when he saw it,” said Hodgetts, of the mayor. “It said exactly what he wanted to say.”

When not in use, the 100-foot-wide and 46-foot-tall stage frames dramatic views of the emerging downtown skyline. Its digitally mixed sound system allowed its shape to break free from the traditional band shell, since the structure’s acoustics didn’t need to be taken into account.

Matthew Carbone
 

The theater merges nicely with Hawkins Partners’ new 11-acre waterfront park, with the steel and limestone material palette continuing into the landscape through walls, railings, and other elements.

“It will be an amenity in the park instead of the park being a bystander,” said Hodgetts.

The park also includes multiuse trails, downtown’s first dog park, gardens, and sports and exercise facilities. On the other side of the stage sits “The Green,” a one and a half acre lawn for events.

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