The environmentalist movement has presented a double-edged sword for many architects. On one side, architects are faced with difficult challenges as they attempt to design increasingly energy-efficient structures. On the other side, these new demands require unorthodox materials, which can present unique design opportunities. Truly beautiful architecture comes from a balance of these two factors: utility and design.
Nicolas Grimshaw’s Water Theater combines form and function to create an amphitheater unlike any other.At least, that is what the public would see: an enormous, bow-shaped amphitheater with hundreds of reflective panels that glimmer in the sunlight.
The amphitheater is not the primary function of the structure, however, as the Water Theater would utilize renewable resources to cool arid farmland and provide distilled water. The eco-friendly design uses solar panels to evaporate seawater, which then condenses due to deep seawater, transforming it into clean drinking water. This process requires a large, mostly flat surface that faces the sun, which just happens to be the ideal specifications of amphitheaters. Making a few modifications to the basic design to transform a piece of modern farming equipment into a public amphitheater was both logical and brilliant.
While the shape of amphitheaters and Seawater Greenhouse structures do happen to share many similarities, Grimshaw’s Water Theater needs to overcome several potential problems. Any theatergoer knows that two of the most important factors in a performance are visibility and acoustics.
For a device built out of solar panels, there is a definite risk of blinding performers or audience members due to reflections from the sun. The solar panels of the theater would have to be angled in such a way that they efficiently capture the light of the sun while avoiding significant glare.
Additionally, the network of pumps and condensers running the water distillation would all have to be virtually silent, or else deactivated whenever the amphitheater is in use. Any acoustic features that help to carry the voices of the performers would also carry the electric hum of heavy equipment.
Here, the design must maintain a new balance. Grimshaw masterfully handled the struggle between form and function, but new issues arise around the problems of production efficiency and usefulness as an amphitheater.