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Riverfront Park and Ascend Amphitheater
Landscape Architecture by Hawkins Partners, Inc.
Lighting Design by Domingo Gonzalez Associates



Formerly a brownfield, now a LEED Gold achievement, the 11-acre park's one mile of paths are lit with full-cutoff precise distribution 3000K luminaires. There is also 4000K "moonlighting" from speaker towers (inset), revealing paths, seating and bioswales. The curved custom pedestrian/street lighting poles along the walkway/bike lane and adjacent 1st Avenue South (right) are elevated on concrete pylons, a lesson learned from the May 2010 flooding. The roadway luminaire is 120 watts, and the luminaire facing the sidewalk/bike lane is 92 watts. Two 12-watt up lights highlight the concrete housings.

The newest 11-acre addition to Riverfront Park has a rich and varied history, from rail lines to most recently functioning as the site of the Nashville Thermal Transfer Plant. The thermal plant was the first waste-to-energy facility in the U.S. when it was established in 1972. The plant was razed in 2004, and environment mitigation followed. Its resurgence as a public open space prompted a lot of conversations in around Nashville. Suggestions for the space included multiple mixed-use office developments, a baseball park and a music venue.



Domingo Gonzalez Associates was the architectural lighting designer for the Ascend Amphitheater and Riverfront Park. RGBW color changing luminaires--surface-mounted 20-watt accent lights, 20-watt linear luminaires, 50-watt floodlights and surface-mounted 270-watt floodlights--are placed at the cowl, stage and the outer shell of the structure. The luminaires, combined with architectural dimming controls networked to a theatrical control system, allow the amphitheater to create dynamic color canvases.

In 2011, Metro Nashville and Davidson County created an open space plan that officially identified the site as an important addition to the city's open space. In 2012, the South of Broadway master plan was commissioned, which reviewed the planning in downtown Nashville in the aftermath of the 2010 flood, and the impending completion of the Music City Center (convention facility), which occupied six blocks in the south downtown area. Through these public community endeavors the consensus on the best use of the thermal site was once and for all determined to be public open space. A concept plan was developed as a part of that study, and in December 2013 a team of project managers, designers and construction managers was selected to move that idea forward.


Yoke-mounted 270-watt RGB LED flood luminaires ('Dyna Drum HO QW') colorfully light the amphitheater's facade and walls. These are high-output quad color flood fixtures.

Design Inspiration from the River's Morphology
With the prominence of this particular site within one of the many bends of the Cumberland River, the waterway and its industrial history became the design muse for the park and amphitheater. Inspired by the morphology of the river--carved limestone bluffs and remnant sand bars along its banks evident from viewpoints within the park-- these elements would be referenced throughout the design work.

The river's design references are played out by the sinuous curves throughout the park, the multicoursed limestone walls and building facades and making us of regional aggregates in the earth-toned pavements. The site walls and architecture are meant to seem carved out of the earth. The river industry, manifested at this segment of the river through abandoned gantry cranes from the barge industry and steel structured bridges, are reflected by the amphitheater's steel skeleton, the open roof structures of the pavilions and through the rebar fence and railing designs throughout the park.


20-watt RGB LEDs ('DynaGraze Exterior HO DMX') hang from adjustable brackets on the steel tubing in the rafters. The lighting effect is "linear grazing."

'Park First'
It was the longtime desire of city leaders and the community for this site to be first and foremost a park. The "Park First" theme permeated the design direction, evoking a "front porch" for the city along the banks of the Cumberland.

Park First becomes especially evident in the open back of the amphitheater structure, through which is viewed the downtown skyline and beyond. Additional pivoting windscreens allow for an even more open flow of visual sight lines.


The 'Light Meander' sculpture is the creation of Seattle-based artists Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan. The sinuous, mostly stainless steel sculpture was inspired by the curves of the Cumberland River. It stands 45' tall and is 8-12" thick. The base of the sculpture is ipe, creating a novel park bench. The side facing the river is mirrored stainless steel to pick up sunlight and reflection off the river. Color-changing LED strip lights illuminate the structure.
Photo: Hawkins Partners, Inc., Matt Carbone

All of the amphitheater accessory buildings create a permeable front to the city streets, with sliding gates that facilitate ebb and flow into the site on a daily basis, with gates sliding closed only during ticketed events.

Over-scaled customized swings, which marry the regional precast material and the industrial steel references, are strategically located to provide focused views down the Cumberland River and toward the main flow of the greenway path for people walking through the park.

A primary greenway path slips through the park, serving as a connection to city greenways and parks north, south, east and west of this pivotal location.


The oversize swings facing the Cumberland River are inviting at night with 8-watt 3000K LED downlights (Bega) mounted to the precast and steel forms. The through-arch bridge that crosses the Cumberland River in Nashville was completed in 2004. Called the Gateway Bridge, it was rechristened the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge in 2006. Nashville's public works engineering division led the effort to relight the bridge with LEDs under the guidance of New York-based Domingo Gonzalez Associates. The bridge is lit by 3000K linear LED vandal-resistance vapor lights that accentuate the girders that support the 571-foot-long span. 'Cool-white' wide-beam floodlights accent the 72 bridge suspension cables and animate the dark red painted bridge deck. Clamp-mounted linear RGB LED fixtures light the arches. Control of the lights is wireless and programmable.
Photo: Domingo Gonzales

Amphitheater Structure
The design of the amphitheater shell and its supporting facilities were greatly influenced by the site, historic Nashville and the city's esteemed place in country music. Those influences range from the extraordinary hatch poster graphics to the trusses on the bridge, and from the limestone masonry to the neon-lit bars.

Our search for an architectural vocabulary that might resonate in the capital of country music concluded with a motif inspired by a much-loved guitar amplifier. Inspired by the lines and textures of a vintage 1962 Gretsch amp, the design pays tribute to the heritage of Nashville and its innumerable contributions to music throughout the decades.


There are 8-watt shallow profile linear LED strip fixtures in the guardrails (left) and 4.5-watt 'Lightrail' LEDs in the stainless steel handrails.
Photo: Matt Carbone

Music Venue and Experience
Early in the design work the design team met with venue operators and consultants, and used the expertise from the amphitheater's own nationally acclaimed acoustician and theater planner to determine the required parameters for a world-class outdoor music venue fitting of Nashville's Music City brand. To equally accommodate acoustic and amplified music, Ascend Amphitheater provides a state-of-the-art electronic shell that allows for acoustic performance through small microphones over the orchestra to feed advanced digital signal processing and loudspeakers to create the same reflections an orchestra would hear from a physical hall. It is one of only a handful of outdoor electronic shells in the world.



Bordering the Riverfront Park green and pathway are 48' Valmont poles with 3 151-watt LED full cut-off floodlights near the top of the poles, and bracket-mounted 57-watt pedestrian luminaire at the 14' 8" mark (inset). This lower luminaire is activated by the movement of people. The facades of the walls are illuminating by 29-watt ingrade LEDs.
Photo: Matt Carbone

The amphitheater provides seating for approximately 6,800 made up of 2,200 removable chairs in the reserved seating sections near the stage, a lawn capacity of 4,500 and approximately 100 premium box seats between the reserved seating and lawn. There's a 400,000 gallon cistern under the amphitheater, whose water supply goes to irrigation needs. The seating bowl takes full advantage of the approximately 45-foott grade change over the site, each seat providing a very intimate concert experience and excellent sightlines with a maximum of 300 feet from the stage to the back of the seating area.


The park's plaza has 57-watt LED luminaires on 16' Valmont light poles (luminaire is at a 14' 8" height) with integral motion sensors. Some have CCTV cameras. Most luminaires are photocell-activated and timeclock-deactivated in response to the park curfew; some dim to low after hours. The "armless" pole lighting is the 8' 'Eclipse' (Luminis) LED. The entry sign (right) has surface mounted LED luminaire, 8 watts per linear foot.
Photo: Domingo Gonzales

LEED/Sustainability Highlights
• 2,800-sq. ft. green roof 

• 400,000-gallon rain harvesting tank 

• Geothermal heating and cooling system 

• Geothermal ice machines 

• 1,350 sq. ft. of solar roof panels 

• The tree canopy--267 trees (38 different species)--Level 1 arboretum status 

• 48 bike parking spaces and a bike repair station 

• 9,000 sq. ft. of permeable paving 

• 2,705,500 tons of recycled content through April 

• 2,895 tons of crushed rock used onsite 

• Solar-powered media charger. Currently on track to receive LEED Gold Certification 

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2017.

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October 17, 2019, 9:28 am PDT

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