Wellington Zoo Amphitheatre / Jasmax


Architects: Jasmax
Location: Wellington,
Client: Wellington Zoo Trust
Project Area: 500 sqm
Project Completed: 2007
Photographer: Paul McCredie

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The Wellington Zoo Amphitheatre is a multi purpose performance space. The primary challenge was to create a powerful and symbolic building with a very tight budget. The most difficult – and hence innovative aspect of the project – was opening up the rear of the theatre in a way that was technically simple, robust and yet elegant whether open or closed.

floor plan
floor plan

The building is comprised of tiered seating covered by a simple lean-to roof that folds down to an inclined rear wall. The roof at its lower edge is staggered and the rear wall stepped to allude to the concept of a traditional (radial) amphitheatre. The sides are semi-enclosed with translucent plastic sheeting. The rear wall folds open to a public area allowing the audience to overflow on fine summer days.


The zoo context demanded a robust building. In response, we worked with very simple and effective building technologies but deployed them in a highly crafted way: areas of striated wood soften and warm the space; rigorous attention to critical details – flashings in particular – give a fineness to its edges; the translucent sheeting creates a light effect that is soft and slightly mysterious and when lit up in the evenings it glows like a lantern in the heart of the zoo.

Cite: "Wellington Zoo Amphitheatre / Jasmax" 06 Oct 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=36993>
  • http://thedesigndummy@blogspot.com designdummy blogger

    What makes a theatre, an amphitheatre?…anyone?

  • João

    The shape.
    And this is not an amphitheatre…

    • salvadore

      and how did you get to this smart conclusion that this in not an amphitheatre??

      before you say things that you don’t know, make some research.

  • astor

    I wish they had put a central photo of the stage…

  • PB

    An amphitheatre is usually an out-door, open air performance venue, usually with the seating being semi-circular in plan. The semi circle was used because of it’s natural amplification qualities that allowed performances to be heard clearly in the back rows without the aid of artificial amplification.

    This is an enclosed space, but is not cut off from the out doors (the building is more of a shelter). It does not look like it has or needs artificial amplification, so, regardless of the shape in plan, I think it qualifies as an amphitheatre.

    Regardless, I think it’s a quite attractive design and hope it sounds as good as it looks while in use. I like the variety of materials, and it seems warm and inviting while being a contemporary design.

    • Ruth

      The theatre was in fact semi-circular (or at least fan shaped) in it’s very early design, however this was “value engineered” away – as described in the blurb, cost was a key driver. Nonetheless the rectangular seating works well and we think provides a very elegant form – Amphitheatre or not!

      • james

        Did you have a part in it’s design or something?

        i think its pretty nice

    • salvadore

      ascending seating makes a it an amphitheater!

  • Goldschmidt R

    Hey come on, let the ancient Greac to rest in peace, bought of them have that shape semi circular, but the differance is that: The amphitheatre it is an open air, and thea theatre is enclosed. And I think that is a hybrid, because it is an open space, but it is just coverd. Anyway, I like the design, it is using warm material, and I don’t think the sound will be bad.

    • salvadore

      who are you ppl???? does nobody learn history of art or something??? ascending seating makes it an amphitheater…..

  • Squidly

    Lucky they didn’t build this in the US, they would have been required to add a ramp access to the stage!

  • João

    Well, considering that “amphi” is a latin word that comes from Greek, and means “on both sides” or “around”, we must conclude that an amphitheatre is related wiht the circular form, and not the out-door.

    So, even recognizing the lack of importance of it… this is not an amphitheatre!

  • Goldschmidt R

    João my friend, I dont said literaly, but it is one open space, eh, but why do we bother for the name it have. I like the building and that is all. If I like to call one building of mine Train staiton, and it is a Post office, I don’t see what is the problem, and the shape it is an “fan” plan, but it is more today than thousand’s of years ago. Abd don’t bother João, it isn’t a personal thing!

  • KJS

    Classically, an amphitheatre is a complete circle or oval, and a theatre is a semi-circle. An amphitheatre was distinguished from a theatre precisely by having seating that surrounded the viewing area entirely, as e.g. in the Colosseum. This project would fit neither specification as far as classical models are concerned. But modern English usage is much looser, and “amphitheatre” is more frequently used to denote an outdoors venue as opposed to an enclosed “theatre.” Since this project does open to the outdoors, I would say “amphitheatre” is an appropriate appellation. More importantly, I think it is very attractive & well-done!

  • sarkis

    What the hell is the big deal, I think its a nice project very well done!

  • dito

    haha…lots of critic on the text! build a bridge (i.e get over it!)

    Go New Zealand!!

  • Craig VanDevere

    I agree it is a nice looking project, well done. The only thing that I could add to this discussion is if the seating had been placed in a semi-circular design you would have had more comfortable sight lines for all viewers. That is everyone’s bodies would be basically perpendicular to the stage allowing one to look straight on versus having to turn their heads and/or bodies to comfortably see the what was going on at the stage. Must keep in mind that this is an amphitheatre for a zoo and therefore can be somewhat more lax on how they design for sight lines and comfort.IMO

  • salvadore

    NO NO NO! the amphitheater is all about the ascending seating not circular or open air or anything like that… the first most important ones were made like that. a round table with some seats around out in open air is not an amphitheater!!

  • Matt Gibala

    what are enclosures, please? (in the floor plan)