Creating a new performance venue at Pickathon 2014

This year’s Pickathon music festival, August 1-3 at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Ore., will feature a brand-new performance venue, designed and built by students and faculty in Portland State University’s School of Architecture. Pickathon draws 3,500 campers each year for a weekend of music by both well-known and emerging performers in a pastoral setting.

Unveiled today, the new Tree Line Stage will host performances by 14 different musical acts at this weekend’s festivities and will hold a maximum of 500 revelers. Made from approximately 550 wooden shipping pallets, the stage and its surrounding structure are nearly as ephemeral as the festival itself: when the weekend is over, no trace of the venue will be left behind. Situated at the boundary between meadow and woods, the Tree Line Stage takes the place of the former Café Stage and offers a more spacious, yet intimate, place for attendees to experience music.

The project follows on the heels of last year’s collaboration between Portland State University School of Architecture and Pickathon, when architecture students designed and built an intricate and elegant gateway structure from hundreds of bamboo stalks, which greeted visitors at the camping entrance to the festival. The 2013 collaboration was so successful that, when they needed a new performance space within the festival grounds, Zale Schoenborn and fellow Pickathon organizers appealed to Assistant Professor Travis Bell and School of Architecture Director Clive Knights to enlist PSU Architecture students’ design ingenuity and muscle to create the new performance space. The venue needed to be beautiful, temporary, and inexpensive. In response, Knights, Bell and several of their students stepped up to the challenge. The result was a graceful, rugged, landscape-hugging venue created entirely from wooden shipping pallets.

“After introducing the brilliant minds of the PSU architecture faculty and students to the excitement of Pickathon last year, I hoped they would see the huge design possibilities inherent in this magical event, and begin to dream the big dreams with us. I secretly knew we were going to end up something that was going to blow people’s minds and create a space that offers a fantastical alternate reality. I’m so happy that this dream came true,” said Schoenborn, Pickathon’s director.  

The design for the venue explores the theme of “diversion” and draws connections between the purpose of a pallet, namely to transport or carry goods, and the experience of being emotionally transported by the music that will be shared there. The venue itself will be as transitory as any musical experience: at the end of the weekend the pallets will be removed and put back into service in their usual function, and the meadow will return to its natural, untouched state.

The concept of the body, moving and dancing in response to the music, figures prominently in the design as well. Here, as described in the Designers’ Statement, “individual wooden pallets join limbs in unison to make something greater, together. They embrace the earth, negotiate its topographic idiosyncrasies with their mathematical regularity by combining themselves into horizontal layers, like the muscular first tier of acrobats in a human pyramid… Flexing their bodies this way and that, catching the sunlight as it moves across their faces, filtering the light as it penetrates their ribs, they mark out a territory in which the diversion of air, by vibration into sound, and by imagination into music, can ensue.”

“Our design/build projects with Pickathon have been such a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage the full life of a piece of architecture – from concept to design development, to material sourcing, to construction, to deconstruction. These students have been able to experience the magic that happens beyond the drafting board when design meets reality…albeit the amazingly, fun, creative and enthusiastic reality that is Pickathon.  It has been an inspiring collaboration,” said Bell.

This eagerly awaited Tree Line Stage venue will be experienced by the public for the first time when the farm opens to early-entry festival goers Thursday, July 31.

School of Architecture
Associated faculty: 
Travis Bell
Clive R. Knights