Amphitheater Studies

An amphitheater is a directionally focalized outdoor seating area. The curved risers allow the presenter’s voice to be heard clearly by the entire audience, and they are afforded uninterrupted sightlines to the presenter. The two things that most improve acoustics in an amphitheater are the decrease of ambient sound and the increase in audience membership. Ancient Greek amphitheaters were sited in quiet locations, away from the city and out of the wind. The hard, acoustically reflective surfaces of their stone seating was mitigated by the soft outlines of clothed humans in close company. While simple in concept and construction, amphitheaters rely on the greater environment and human participation to bring them to life.

Amphitheaters have been an interest of mine since the early 1980’s when I applied for and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to study them. Soon after, I was commissioned to build amphitheater-like seating behind the home plate backstop of our local softball field. The granite terraces have become a well used addition to the summer scene in Brattleboro, Vermont. Since then, I’ve been able to design and build lots of stone seating arrangements but nothing quite like a classic, half-shell amphitheater of old, until now.

As a first step in realizing the possibilities for designing an amphitheater for Boise, Idaho, I visited the city and was shown examples of existing works. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that a place with over 200 days of sunshine a year would have ample outdoor gathering places. The surprise and shock to this Vermonter was the 106° Fahrenheit August temperature. The next visit to Boise will be in October to instruct a dry stone walling workshop. May cool weather conditions prevail!