Riverfront Park & Ascend Amphitheater

November 15, 2015
A new aphitheater for Nashville's waterfront.

For more than 30 years a thermal energy plant sat just blocks from the heart of downtown Nashville, Tenn., on the Cumberland River, burning garbage. When the plant closed in 2004, city leaders wanted to give the 11-acre site a flashy new life. Various projects were proposed, including an office complex and a baseball stadium, but nothing garnered local support. In 2007, the city decided to turn the riverfront land into a park.

Nashville being the home of country music, it wasn’t long before the park’s plan was amended to include one additional amenity: an amphitheater. But the city’s then-mayor Karl Dean wanted to ensure the amphitheater didn’t detract from the park, according to Hunter Gee, AIA, principal at local firm Smith Gee Studio, the project’s architect of record. “From very early on there was almost a mandate that we reduce the visual impact on the city skyline,” says Gee. That was interpreted to mean punching a hole through the building to allow continuous views of downtown.

Having never built an amphitheater, Smith Gee Studio hired Hodgetts + Fung, known for its work renovating the Hollywood Bowl near its office in Los Angeles. “It’s very unusual for an amphitheater not to have a solid back to it,” says Craig Hodgetts, FAIA.