Amphitheater on horizon for MedCamps

ARCH335, Louisiana Tech’s award-winning Design Build class, and its longtime client MedCamps of Louisiana, recently enjoyed a groundbreaking ceremony for the teammates’ newest project, the 2023 Design Build Imago Amphitheater, an outdoor amphitheater that will be introduced in another ceremony upon its completion in May.

The continued growth and evolution of Camp Alabama and its programs, coupled with its participatory growth, made the amphitheater the next logical project for the property in Choudrant-Sibley where youngsters with chronic illnesses and disabilities are served through unique recreational and educational experiences.

“The amphitheater was chosen to plant the seed that will be the new heart of Camp Alabama across the pond, away from the busy Highway 145, and give our 2021 entry project its anticipated destination,” said Tech School of Design’s Brad Deal who, along with fellow associate professor Robert Brooks, act as instructors, mentors, colleagues, and coworkers throughout the duration of ARCH 335’s annual creation.

In 2021, ARCH 335 developed a new entry for the Camp at a quieter location off Highway 821; that was the beginning of the implementation of the 2020 Master Plan. Long term, Camp Alabama hopes to build a new main operations building for which this spring’s amphitheater will be a companion.

The amphitheater will be used for opening and closing camp ceremonies, camper talent shows and general gatherings of all kinds.

“This is the exciting part for me,” Brooks said. “On a daily basis it will serve as a landmark in the landscape, and a place of performance: everything from talent shows to performances. But what I like the most about it is that Imago will serve as a place of ‘memory making’ — the place where opening and closing ceremonies will happen and where camp and cabin group photos will be taken.”

The name Imago comes from the idea of transformation. It is the stage of development in which a butterfly emerges from its cocoon.

“This speaks to the transformation experienced by the campers when they share their talents and fully participate in camp — it changes them,” Deal said. “This idea inspired the students to create a sculptural roof form that appears to be in the process of growth and transformation.”

“A long time ago, Goethe said that ‘architecture is frozen music,’” Brooks said. “Rather than music, this new amphitheater is frozen transformation.”

The project’s foundation will be made from traditional concrete and framing lumber, but the roof will be created from generously donated steel rods and pipes from Nadel & Gussman, a regular donor to Camp Alabama and ARCH 335 projects.

Those materials, along with Brooks, Deal, one graduate student, 16 undergrads, and “blood, sweat and tears,” Brooks said, will combine to create what will likely be another award-winning structure. But while ARCH 335 teams have won multiple professional design awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Gulf States Region AIA over the past decade, that has never been the goal of Camp Alabama creations.

“Rather,” Brooks said, “our steadfast mission as leaders of Design/Build is two-fold: to provide real-world tangible educational experiences for our students, and to use our talents as architects and professors to increase the potential for joy for our clients — children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.”

Brooks thinks the “expressive, transformative shape and shapes” of the Imago will be what sets it apart from the architecture of other amphitheaters, at least formally.

“Conceptually,” he said, “the students have worked really hard to ‘freeze’ the physical act of transformation into that of architecture. Straddling both land and water, it’s location and proximity is ‘of the earth, of the sky, and of the water.’”

A practical reality might also make the Imago something extra special.

“This project is unique in its form and design of course,” Deal said, “but what makes it most special is its role in establishing an expansion of camp facilities around Lake Alabama and beginning the development for what will hopefully become MedCamps and Camp Alabama’s primary operations in the future.”