Architect: Eppstein Uhen Architects, Inc.
Owner: Milwaukee World Festival
Contractor: Hunzinger Construction Company
The BMO Harris Pavilion is a 10,000-capacity contemporary stage at Henry W. Maier Festival Park – home to the World’s Largest Music Festival. Summerfest is an 11-day outdoor music festival with 11 stages, over 1,000 performances and an attendance of nearly 1 million fans annually. The new stage transforms the acoustical and viewing experiences for park visitors, combining superior production capabilities, large video screens and a contoured seating bowl. The BMO Harris Pavilion has recently had the honor of hosting various musical superstars, including Kip Moore, REO Speedwagon, Ray LaMontagne, Sheryl Crow, LL Cool J and Foreigner.
This distinctive and appealing structure has helped anchor the under-utilized south end of the festival grounds. As Henry W. Maier Festival Park is used for various events throughout the summer, construction of the new stage could not conflict with Summerfest’s festival season – only leaving an 8-month time window (October through June). The design team faced the precise challenge of creating a structure perched on a reclaimed lake bed, requiring the careful examination of the water table and surrounding infrastructure. Built up against the seawall of Lake Michigan, the new structure had to be designed above the highest recorded lake level and due to the poor soil conditions, the design team needed to create the building’s foundation to sit on structural piles. The requirement that soils were not to be removed led to the decision to contour the seating bowl to build up and balance the site – utilizing the soils as a substrate for the architecture to increase design efficiency.
The pavilion is a metaphor for the surrounding water of Lake Michigan, translated into the gently undulating roof form to represent the blowing winds and a symbol of downtown Milwaukee’s integration with the lakeshore. The overall roof form represents the winds coming in off the lake, the sound waves that fill the stage and the eccentric energy surrounding each performance. The unique roof design comes as the result of extensive sound and sensory experience testing completed early on in the design process by developing a mock stage. The concave roof form restricts sound from traveling outside of the pavilion, driving the sound back into the ground for an elevated acoustical experience.
The pavilion rests under a clear-span polyhedral space frame structure utilizing only perimeter columns and broad cantilevers with no interior columns within the seating bowl to provide an unobstructed view of the stage from all angles and maximize coverage of the roof form. To allow for construction to be completed on an accelerated schedule, the design team implemented the componentization of the superstructure. To accommodate the pavilion’s complete structure and canopy on poor soil conditions, each column assembly has 8-9 piles driven down into the substructure, spread out in a cone shape to resist sustained uplift generated from 90+MPH lakefront winds.
The pavilion is organized into separate facets, each accommodating a component of service. The stage is strategically oriented on an east-west axis with the performer’s back to Lake Michigan. To enhance the presence of the water, the back of house functions were placed on the sides of the stage, allowing the patrons to look past the performer to a framed view of the lakefront, nearby lighthouse and horizon beyond.
Photos: C+N Photography