In August 1969, a farm in rural Bethel, New York hosted half-a-million people for a three-day long music festival simply known as Woodstock. The legendary site, now part of the 800-acre campus of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, will now play host to a different type of creative endeavor. A group of Texas Tech University students and design collaborative i/thee have digitally designed and fabricated a curving wood pavilion dubbed Peek-A-Book as part of a new pilot program which will bring art and architecture to the famous concert venue.
Debuting in 2006 after local resident Alan Gerry first acquired the fabled festival’s land in 1998, the sprawling Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is anchored by a large amphitheater, Woodstock-focused museum, and performing arts center, was established to bring live music and other cultural events back to the dormant Sullivan County site. Today, the organization regularly hosts major concerts and other cultural events across its bucolic compound, including at its Westlake Reed Leskosky–designed arts center.
According to the design team, Peek-A-Boo is the first “piece of programmable infrastructure” since the 1969 festival to be erected in the Bindy Bazaar, a backwoods trail system where festival revelers sold goods and hid from the rain. Bindy Bazaar, and the whole of the Woodstock campus, is subject to an ongoing restoration project to reengage the landscape and enhance the visitor experience; projects include delineating the location of the original Woodstock stage and other main components of the festival, expanding the trails, and installing signage.
Peek-A-Boo makes use of design-build strategies, in an attempt to reintroduce the practice to the site. To fabricate the cascading piece of woodwork, the students participated in a summer course, Architecture IRL, led by i/thee founder Neal Lucas Hitch. During the course, students modeled the project digitally and then constructed it by hand on the former festival grounds.
“Conceptually, the project aims to bridge fraught binaries between analog and digital production modes; the structure was designed using computational digital tools and analyses but was constructed primarily by hand tools in-situ,” i/thee explained in a project description.
To begin, the team developed concept designs using scaled materials, which were then converted into a visual scripting tool to grant further analysis and trialing of designs. The entire structure was constructed in the Bindy Bazaar over a two-week span.
Peek-A-Boo is formed with over 60 quarter-inch plywood sheets that have been bent, sculpted, and then glued together in a collage-like patterning. For added durability of the structure the sheets were fixed down with screws and tied with rivets. The sprawling design results in a layered series of wooden slabs and arches. It snakes through the wooded landscape with a presence that suggests it has always existed there, augmented by the holes cut into the sheets which perfectly wrap around tree trunks and the vegetation growing around it.
As for its use, the installation is multifunctional; it harkens to the site’s past as a concert venue and could easily be purposed into a stage with its curved arches and layered platforms acting as seating for kicking back or viewing shows.
“Ultimately, the justification for the structure lies in its ability to shape diverse and comfortable experiences: its arches creating the bandshells for performers to play under; its decks becoming the tiered seating for audience members; the pixelated surface providing an undulating canvas for dancing shadows seeping through the forest clerestory,” i/thee said.