In the mid-60s, Peter van Dijk designed the Blossom Music Center for the Cleveland Orchestra in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. At that time he was a 37-year-old architect who found himself working with Christopher Jaffe who brought expertise in acoustics to the project and structural engineer Richard Genser.
Blossom Music Center Technical Information
- Architects: Peter van Dijk
- Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA
- Material: Concrete and Weathering Steel
- Type: Amphitheatre, Pavilion, Public Space
- Project Year: 1966–1967
- Acoustician: Christopher Jaffe
- Structural Engineer: Miklos Peller
- Engineering Firm: R. M. Gensert Associates
- Drawings: © Peter van Dijk
- Photographs: © G. E. Kidder Smith (MIT Libraries)
I see it as an obligation to withhold your ego, to not put your stamp on it, to not run a chrome-plated duct through a space and say, ‘I was here expressing the mechanical equipment,’
– Peter van Dijk
Blossom Music Center Photographs
The Blossom Music Center is an outdoor amphitheater located in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio named after the family of Dudley S. Blossom, who served as president of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1936 to 1938. The site’s natural parabolic setting, the pavilion’s sloping slate roof, and the area’s natural wooded surroundings distinguish it from other contemporary amphitheaters. The facility, designed by architect Peter van Dijk, is located on 800 acres (320 ha) of natural woods inside the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, about 10 miles (16 km) north of downtown Akron and 33 miles (53 km) south of downtown Cleveland. In 2011, the Musical Arts Association sold 580 acres (230 ha) of Blossom’s undeveloped acreage to the National Park Service to add to the park. This financially benefited the owners and serves to protect the natural setting of Blossom. In 2003, the venue underwent a $17 million renovation.
Construction of the Amphitheater
Before construction began in 1966, van Dijk and his team, which included structural engineer Miklos Peller and acoustician Christopher Jaffe, took a reconnaissance trip to the best-known amphitheaters of the day. To improve their designs, they studied other outdoor amphitheaters, including Ravinia, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936, and Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra has played during the summer since 1937. One major flaw they saw in the other projects: Their acoustics. On that trip, the main concepts of the Blossom amphitheater started to take shape.
In collaboration with Christopher Jaffe, they concluded the space was going to need a volume where you could not only hear and see the direct sound but also hear the reverberating sound lingers up to three seconds. That is how they proposed the orchestra shell that encloses the musicians on stage which can help the sound from the orchestra bounce right into the audience. The trio created the curving roof of Blossom so that the sound would “expand and project,”. The structure used long-lasting materials such as concrete and what’s called weathering steel, a resilient external structure to ensure the acoustics within were always protected. The design also reflected the surrounding landscape.
The steel rusts and then the rust forms a scale, like a bark on a tree or a scab on a wound. And then it doesn’t rust anymore. The more it rusts the tighter it gets as a protection. It’s this brown color. That was the first use in Ohio of that material. And then the roof and the sides are slate. The point is that those three materials (concrete, weathering steel and slate) are forever. So the main cost of maintenance is mowing the lawns.
– Peter van Dijk1
Van Dijk admitted to being “nervous as hell” about meeting the legendary George Szell, then maestro of the Cleveland Orchestra, until Szell put him at ease by greeting him in Dutch. Szell had conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and picked up some of the language.
Nowadays, the pavilion is composed of slate and tubular steel and has a capacity of 6,051 seats. Behind the pavilion is the general admission lawn, which can seat an additional 15,000 people. Blossom is the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, which performs its annual Blossom Festival there. The venue is also host to a full summer schedule of popular music acts and symphonic performances. It is owned by the Musical Arts Association, the orchestra’s non-profit parent organization.
The annual Carnival of Horrors has been held every October since 2003.
Blossom Music Center Plan
Blossom Music Center Image Gallery
About Peter van Dijk
Peter van Dijk (February 13, 1929 – September 7, 2019) was an American architect born in Indonesia and who spent most of his childhood in the Netherlands. After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon, he enrolled in the master’s degree program in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he would study with the great Louis Kahn and Pietro Belluschi. Belluschi introduced Van Dijk to Eero Saarinen, of St. Louis Arch fame, who gave van Dijk his first job. He worked four years for Saarinen, whom he remembers as a “great teacher, never arrogant, and very supportive of younger talent.”
Van Dijk also spent a year in Rome on a Fulbright fellowship, immersing himself in the enduring art and architecture of the Renaissance. “The thoughtful architect,” he once wrote, “will appraise the spirit which moved other ages”—not for the purposes of imitating, but of “truly understanding it, which means seeing the thousand ties which bind architecture to its own age”—everything, that is, from materials to assumptions about things like community and our place in the universe.