Hold an ordinary seashell up to your ear and you’ll hear the ocean – but sit inside this enormous seashell, and you’ll hear the San Diego Symphony. Making spectacular use of the acoustic properties of the shell shape, the new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in San Diego, California offers an open-air concert venue against the backdrop of the San Diego Bay. Developed by Soundforms UK with help from Flanagan Lawrence Architects, ES Global, Expedition Engineers, and Tucker Sadler Architects, the structure provides the city with a unique gathering place and venue where arts and nature intersect.
The design for the Rady Shell began with the award-winning temporary Soundforms Mobile Acoustic Performance Shell (MAPS) the firm created for the London Olympics in 2012. Soundforms reinterpreted that project into a customized, upscaled, and permanent version that’s able to accommodate the entire San Diego Symphony Orchestra, a chorus, and soloists. It also contains a backstage artist support space, three professional kitchens, underground restrooms, and a sloped seating area for up to 10,000 guests. The shell opens up to a public park with views of the bay in one direction, and the San Diego skyline in the other.
The shell-shaped performance venue reaches a peak of 57 feet and measures 92 feet in width at the front of the stage. Australia-based Fabritecture oversaw the design, fabrication, and installation of the tensile structure, while Brooklyn-based Meyer Sound installed special acoustic panels that create a similar sound experience for the performers as indoor concert halls. San Francisco-based sound engineering and audiovisual company Salter added their own acoustic panels that are both reflective and absorptive, lining the inside and outside of the shell. All of that translucent tensile material gives the shell an ethereal appearance, with sunlight shining through to the stage by day and built-in lighting glowing softly after dark.
“It’s an amazing, spectacular outdoor venue,” says Maestro Rafael Payare, Music Director and Conductor of the San Diego Symphony. “We can hear each other wonderfully and you feel like you are in one of the top-notch concert halls in the world. The Shell has a mind-blowing organic quality…you actually can hear all the (different sound) balances and perform the way you would in a concert hall, not an outdoor venue.”
“Local San Diegans and visitors to San Diego will be able to attend world-class music performances by The San Diego Symphony and other events when the San Diego Symphony isn’t performing,” says Greg Mueller, CEO and Design Principal of Tucker Sadler Architecture. “The Rady Shell with state-of-the-art acoustic technology, lighting effects, and architectural design elements, as well as the San Diego Bay as a backdrop, creates a unique concert experience.”
In progress for five years, the Rady Shell finally opened to the public in August. When concerts aren’t in session, the venue serves as a landmark for the city’s revitalized downtown area, and its terraced guest seating transforms into steps from which to watch the sunset. Jutting out over the water on a peninsula, this unusual venue is postcard-ready, looking especially majestic when illuminated at night.