Archive for the Theater Bowl Category

The Outdoor Theater Bowl

Posted in architecture, cities, design, Theater Bowl with tags , , , , , on April 15, 2011 by architectcs


Full text in Italian from

Il Giornale dell’Architettura

The Journal of Architecture – Italian Edition “Mondo”

(English version in post below)

Span Soleri

Posted in architecture, cities, design, Theater Bowl with tags on April 13, 2011 by architectcs

Scottsdale Bridge and Plaza to Santa Fe’s Outdoor Theater Bowl

Paolo Soleri, age 91, won late-career accolades with the dedication last December 11th of his Pedestrian Bridge and Plaza along the Arizona Canal in Scottsdale. The project reprises Soleri leitmotifs; a history of bridge design first honored by the Museum of Modern Art in 1949, his earth-cast concrete techniques, cast bronze bells and his philosophy that a construction need never be just one thing. Consistent with the architect’s emphasis on urbanism, the bridge intervenes in Scottsdale’s pervasive car-culture as a pedestrian connector, linking a cluster of restaurants and bars with a residential complex across the waterway. It performs as a gnomon, two towers of burnished stainless steel focus the noonday sun on a crimson stripe down the span’s centerline. The Plaza self-announces with sound as ringing bells greet the walker’s arrival. A semi-circle of silt-cast concrete monoliths in cuneiform-like relief provide shelter from sun and wind and limn a gathering place. Concrete walls were cast against sculpted earthen forms. The Scottsdale Bridge is one of five built Soleri commissions so it shocks to know that concurrently with its construction another of the architect’s client works, the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater on the Santa Fe Indian School campus, was being consigned to possible demolition.

The “outdoor theater bowl” commissioned in 1965 by Lloyd New, Native American founder of the Institute of American Indian Arts sits today on a treeless campus. In spring 2008, without notice, Indian School administrators razed many old campus buildings conforming cosmetically to Santa Fe style but left one iconoclast, the Amphitheater, which in 2010 they revealed plans to level, unleashing a public debate.

The Amphitheater had long been popular as an Indian School ceremony site and summer concert venue but examining Soleri’s drawings and the Institute’s archive, reveals a collaboration between architect and client of historic importance beyond its role as an event location. The swooping lines of its concrete form more fully represent Soleri’s earth-man-cosmos philosophy than his Scottsdale Pedestrian Plaza, though they share his earth-formed concrete techniques. They delineate a theater born as twin with contemporary Indigenous drama.

In 1965, New and Rolland Meinholtz, head of IAIA’s theater department, studied the environments of Native ceremonies; Plains tribes’ panoramic expanses, the underground kivas of Pueblo peoples, and the Pacific Northwest longhouse – to derive the theater’s thematic language. From these vectors Soleri synthesized the design into a two-tiered Elizabethan playhouse schematic;  main stage as embodied physical realm; upper stage as spiritual region. Soleri designed the theater literally into nature, sinking the stage below grade, piling the excavate spoils into a manmade hill, and leaving a view to the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Steep bench seating compresses the psychological distance between audience and performers. Two vomitoria tunnel from beneath the benches, projecting the actors as if from an underworld. Upstage, a cast concrete shell with acoustic faceting and a pebbled lower band evokes a cave. A scooping upper stage on hollow columns juts beneath a panoramic bridge that runs the shell’s edge. Two stairways flank the columns, then turn at platform landings, penetrating the shell. This vertical passage connotes transformation in Native narratives.

Soleri programmed the upper level right-to-left to represent two symbolic modes: weather phenomena – and the diurnal cycle. He anticipated a geometric sun symbol at the midpoint (omitted in construction). The progression ends with a “moon” bridge traversing a canyon that slices down from the the grassy hill to lead actors and animals to the stage. Oneida playwright Bruce King relates that a canal once crossed the stage and that fusillades of arrows could launch from the hillside.

Architecturally, this performance armature diffuses dramatic focus into a unique field of action. No other permanent American theater invites such physical engagement by actors and, indeed, weather (ironically, that planned-for phenomenon caused maintenance problems administrators cite as fatal).

Swiss mime Jan Kessler inaugurated the theater on February 16, 1970. Rosalie Jones (Pembina, Chippewa) of the dance faculty went on to found Daystar, the first Native dance company. The theater has hosted 14 Native Roots and Rhythms Festivals, including choreographer Rulan Tangen’s (Metis) continuous dance.

The mothballed theater, now encircled by chain link, shows only detritus of dust and leaves. But its long intermission should not foreclose a vivid rejuvenation of Soleri’s legacy architecture. Scottsdale’s vision in sponsoring the Bridge and Plaza points the way.


Letter advocating preservation of the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater

Posted in architecture, cities, design, Theater Bowl with tags on July 3, 2010 by architectcs

Chairman Joe Garcia
All Indian Pueblo Council

June 21, 2010

Dear Chairman Garcia,

Following the lead of the alumni of the Santa Fe Indian School, I write you to advocate the preservation of the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater.  I have been told you are a wise, compassionate and experienced leader and hope you will hear my few words in favor of the Paolo Soleri.

Lloyd Kiva New chose architect Soleri to design the amphitheater before Soleri attained the international stature he holds in our time.  It is prophetic that the amphitheater’s patron had the vision to recognize Soleri’s genius long before others saw it.  Lloyd Kiva New lived his life as an unparalleled champion of Indian arts and culture and as a cultural bridge-builder in our fragmented world..  Stewart Udall credited him as one who inspired the National Museum of the American Indian.  Soleri, at 90, is recognized as a grandfather of sustainable architecture concepts.  His idea of compact cities, integrating living and work, “Arcology”, harks back to traditional Southwest Pueblos.  Students worldwide study his work.

The SFIS campus is home to an international architectural gem.  It’s flowing, organic form is not so different from the work of Indian sculptors I see in galleries and at Indian Market in Santa Fe.  It’s steep, wrap-around seating and small stage fuse a special intimacy between performer and audience.  These qualities endear the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater to SFIS students for their ceremonies and performances and leave profound memories with alumni.  This is not mere nostalgia.  I believe the architecture  creates these feelings nurtured in memory. I have heard alumni call the place “sacred”.   Of course many in the community of Santa Fe, indeed Northern New Mexico, love the Paolo Soleri for it’s intimacy and expressive form as a concert venue.

Last Sunday I attended Stewart Udall’s memorial at the Soleri and felt again the delight emanating from this wonderful place.  Senator Tom Udall brought up the late Secretary’s friendship with Lloyd Kiva New – how it brought the Soleri to life years ago on the IAIA campus. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this positive architectural power in our time of ever more generic building.  My feeling is that the amphitheater will be an asset to the SFIS program of progressive education.  There’s a saying,  “architecture is the mother of the arts”. When I visit Chaco, or watch The Mystery of Chaco Canyon on TV, I can only believe that the expression transcends cultures.  Many schools would cry to have a building of the Paolo’s inspirational value.  Keeping the amphitheater would provide SFIS students with a vital example of artistic and architectural creativity – and stimulate some creative young souls to become architects.

With your help, we could establish a breathing period, six months or a year, during which the amphitheater’s constituencies could work out a plan and financing for its preservation.  The constituencies include the Indian School, its alumni, the Pueblo Council and Indian Peoples, the community of Santa Fe and New Mexicans and architecture lovers and students.  Lloyd Kiva New and Paolo Soleri gave a gift to the Indian School and to the world.  Please let us, with your guiding wisdom, find a way to steward this treasure for future generations.


Conrad Skinner
Santa Fe, NM.