The roof of Frank Gehry’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland collapsed

The roof of Frank Gehry’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland collapsed

One of the oldest public buildings built by architect Frank Gehry collapsed this month as a five-year, $55 million renovation neared the end, forcing its owners to revise their plans.

The roof of the Merriweather Post Pavilion, a 19,000-seat outdoor concert venue in Columbia, Maryland, collapsed at midnight on Saturday, January 13, burying the seats below. No one is hurt.

Designed by Jerry Welch and O’Malley, and opened in 1967, the Concert Pavilion was renovated to help it compete with other performing arts centers. The design team, led by JP2 Architects of Baltimore, chose to retain the original roof because it was a defining element of Gehry’s design. But the designers also wanted to raise it to improve sight lines. Gehry, now president of Gehry Partners, is not part of the design team, but was briefed on the project and toured the site several years ago.

A roof collapse made the Concert Pavilion one of the first major Frank Gehry buildings to be lost or significantly altered—despite the owner’s efforts to maintain its architectural integrity throughout the renovation.

A view of the renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion (Photo courtesy of Howard Hughes Corporation)
A view of the renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion (Photo courtesy of Howard Hughes Corporation)

The roof was in the process of being raised on hydraulic lifts 20 feet above its original height when it collapsed. The pavilion’s operators said this week that they intend to build a new roof in time for the summer concert season, and that it will be at the 51-foot height the original roof was moved to.

Investigators did not reveal the cause of the collapse, but there was speculation that wind was a factor. the The president of the pavilion’s operating company, Seth Horowitz of IMP, pointed out the possibility in a Facebook message.

“The winds of fate blew and I decided that instead of just raising the roof, we should go ahead and build a new one,” he wrote. “It wasn’t our decision, but the silver lining is all the money we save when it goes down.” Horowitz added that “everything will be ready for the season opener,” with the premiere scheduled for July.

The 50-year-old concert pavilion was one of the first buildings to open in Columbia, and is now a key element in a multi-phased expansion of the single city led by its master developer, the Howard Hughes Company. Hughes transferred ownership of the pavilion in 2016 to a nonprofit group, the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission.

Gehry had an office in Baltimore when he designed the Pavilion, one of four buildings in Columbia he worked on for developer James Ross. Another of his commissions, the former Rouse headquarters, has been converted into a mixed-use development with Whole Foods Market as its anchor tenant. Jerry could not be reached for comment on the roof collapse.

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