The Shell, what could become a defining symbol of San Diego, is nearing completion on San Diego’s Bayfront.
Modeled after a Golden Ration sea shell, the open air structure and the adjacent terraced park that comprise the 10.8-acre San Diego Symphony Bayside Performance Park is set to be completed this summer as the new concert venue for the Symphony.
“We took an actual sea shell and took images of the sea shell and came up with the mathematical equation to create The Shell as it is today,” said Greg Mueller, Tucker Sadler CEO.
Estimated to cost more than $45 million, The Shell and Embarcadero Marina Park South were designed by Tucker Sadler, the San Diego architectural firm behind many of the city’s most notable waterfront projects.
Tucker Sadler’s projects include the Portside Pier restaurant complex on the waterfront, the Carte Hotel in downtown San Diego, the U.S. Navy Administration Building, and the Costa Verde RV Resort in Chula Vista.
“This one has probably the most culturally significant value to it because it’s something that’s been created for the symphony as its main venue,” Mueller said. “It has a community impact and a unifying impact. Music is a unifying thing.”
The San Diego Port District and the San Diego Symphony partnered on the Shell and park project.
“The Port of San Diego is especially proud of the ‘park within a park’ aspect of this project with the San Diego Symphony,” said Michael Zucchet, chairman of Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners.
“Not only will The Shell further enhance the San Diego Bay waterfront with its state-of-the-art performance venue, it also improves public amenities – some of which are already complete,” Zucchet said. “The public will enjoy a wider public promenade and new benches, as well as a new viewing deck and steps at the back of the stage that will be a great place to hang out or watch the sun set.”
The waterfront Shell and park will have a 4,800 square-foot stage and room to accommodate up to 10,000 seats with a backstage dressing area, restrooms, a green room for performers, food pavilions, dining areas and a box office.
“It’s all set up to allow for a variety of seating up to 10,000,” Mueller said. “A majority of shows will be less than 10,000.”
The shell itself is about 56 feet tall, Mueller said.
“It has one of the most acoustically advanced (sound) systems in the country,” Mueller said. “It’s never been used in an outdoor venue. It allows us to control the sound on the stage as well as amplified out to the audience.”
Although construction of The Shell and park will be done by summer, the schedule for opening performances will depend on whatever health guidelines are in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has already had an effect on the project, delaying construction by about a year, Mueller said.
“It just kind of slowed a lot of things down. Production stopped on things. Transportation was slowed down,” Mueller said. “Originally, our time frame was to set to open last July.”
The public park that is part of The Shell project will include basketball courts, an outdoor picnic area and pavilion, improved access for the disabled and perimeter walkways.
The lawn area in front of the shell stage is artificial grass to make it easier to walk on, save water and cut down on wear-and-tear.
The terraced lawn slopes up toward the east, with rest rooms at the far end beneath the mound.
In addition to the main shell over the concert stage, the Symphony’s new venue has two side shells for have support functions.
Smaller structures on the south side also are shaped like shells and have glass panels in various shades of blue with silver highlights to represent sunlight on the bay.
“If you look at the bay on any given day, you’ll notice the sun twinkling on it. We took that pattern and imposed it on the glass,” Mueller said.
The structures on the north side of the main shell and stage “are an abstraction of stacked waves,” Muller said.
Translucent panels in the buildings depict trees that were removed to make room for The Shell.
“We photographed those trees and did abstractions of those trees on the surface of the building,” Mueller said.
Steps on the east side of The Shell behind the stage lead to a public plaza.
“Those steps have been deemed Sunset Steps because year round, you can sit back there and watch the sunset on the bay,” Mueller said.
On the north side of the shell, ancillary structures are designed to look like waves in the bay.
Founded in 1957 by Tom Tucker, Hal Sadler and Ed Bennet working out of a small office over a garage in Ocean Beach, Tucker Sadler has grown to have a staff of 24 with an annual revenue of more than $5 million.
Mueller, who joined the firm in 1997, said the firm continues to grow.
“We look internationally for talent, as well as in the United States,” Mueller said. “We’ve had up to 10 different countries represented in our firm, from the Middle East to South America, up into Canada and in the U.K (United Kingdom) and the Ukraine as well,” Mueller said. “When we all come together to look at our design, it’s that diversity of experience that’s influencing our design each day.”
The philosophy underlying the firm’s work is “to make sure we adhere to what the owners are looking for, then what we try to do is design an experience that takes the owner’s desires to a different level,” Mueller said.
“We try to do that by making a few bold gestures with our structures, not at a cost to the building,” Mueller said. “That draws people to it and people want to experience it.”
San Diego, because of its abundance of natural light and temperate climate, provides an ideal canvas, Mueller said.
“One of the things I try to do with all of our designs is to bring natural light into our buildings,” Mueller said. “It has a warmth to it. It’s that warmth that gives everybody that ‘Aha’ moment.”
The waterfront is a particularly enticing backdrop.
“The great thing about San Diego is there’s a history to the waterfront and the new elements that are brought in just continue to enhance the experience,” Mueller said, citing the planned Seaport development along the embarcadero.
“We’re all anxious to see what that becomes,” Mueller said. “I think there’s a lot more to be done on our waterfront. I don’t think we’re done yet.”