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Volume 18 · Number 3, 4 · 2011
Concert Hall Design—Present Practices
Leo L. Beranek, Anders Christian Gade, Alban Bassuet,
Lawrence Kirkegaard, Harold Marshall
and Yasuhisa Toyota
II. ALBAN BASSUET; email@example.com
Trends and Innovative Ideas in Modern Concert Hall Design
Symphony halls around the world come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. They
range from the large rectangular “shoebox” halls of 19
century, to the arena format
with platforms of seats in radial arrangement towards the stage, to the vineyard shape,
to the full surround concert hall with the stage moved towards the middle, with multiple
variations in between. Choice of a particular form is not driven by acoustics alone but
also by architectural, social, demographic or political desires or site constraints.
Acoustic design and analysis tools now allow a much better understanding of room
acoustics in the design stages, for example how subjective impression of sound such as
intimacy, clarity, spaciousness or reverberance can be influenced by specific sound
reflection timing, amplitude, and incidence. Using these tools acousticians have more
information to interpret the implications of particular architectures on acoustic
performances for the design of new halls and the realization of a range of diverse
project’s ambitions. This should lead to the emergence of a greater diversity in
performance space architectural design. It should also be noted that the majority of new
concert halls must be able to accommodate a range of event types from symphonic and
chamber music, through jazz, rock, pop world music and conferences.
B. RECENT PROJECTS
Recent Arup projects confirm the trends. Projects range from The Sage Gateshead
(1,650 seats) designed as a pure rectangular hall with the Vienna Musikvereinssaal as a
benchmark, but capable of a wide range of use, to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester
(2,400 seats) hybrid between the shoe-box and vineyard form (Fig. 1), to the Istanbul
concert hall designed as a pure vineyard shape (2,500 seats).
New technologies are opening up new avenues for design and creativity. Direct A/B
comparisons in lab of ambisonic recordings of existing halls are greatly facilitating
BUILDING ACOUSTICS · Volume 18 · Number 3, 4 · 2011 163
Figure 1. Bridgewater Concert Hall, Manchester, UK.
objective comparisons of different spaces (the ArupSoundLab allows this to happen in
a specifically designed and controlled environment). Objective and subjective tests of
new shapes against renowned benchmarks are being made. The representation of the
acoustic signatures of halls in 3D to better understand how each reflection contributes
to the spatial composition of sound . These technologies also allow one to re-visit the
great acoustics of the past, such as the rooms used by the classic composers themselves,
to better understand the relationship between music and architecture  to inspire better
C. NEW DESIGN TOOLS
Modern architecture is constantly seeking new ways of expression, leading to complex
architectural geometries and difficult acoustical properties to predict. Today, acousticians
and room designers have a wide range of tools available to engage pro-actively in the
design process of complex room shapes: physical scale model (1:100 scale for quick
prototype laser study up to 1:10 scale for full acoustic analysis), 3D computer models for
acoustic simulations or visualization, real time ray tracing programs (Rhino-
Grasshopper), sightline renderings and seat layout and size optimization, FEM/BEM
analysis of walls and materials, auralizations, and more. These open-up new ground for
the shaping of new halls and the possibility to re-interpret the known fundamental
acoustical principles but in modern architectural languages.
These tools have been applied directly by Arup through involvement in architectural
competitions. For the Bonn Concert Hall competition with Zaha Hadid architect, Arup
proposed a modern interpretation of the classic shoe-box with complex sweeping wall
surfaces and balconies optimized in 3D to increase acoustical intimacy and
envelopment (Fig. 2). For the Sinfonia Varsovia competition with SO-IL architects we
164 Concert Hall Design—Present Practices
Figure 2. Arup Design developed for the Bonn Concert Hall competition with Zaha
proposed a surround concert hall shape where each platform of seats was surrounded by
small walls and ceiling elements creating series of “acoustical pod” environment,
coupled to an outer volume used to adjust the hall to different orchestra forces (from
concerto, to classic or post-romantic symphonies) (Fig. 3).
These are some of the ideas, tools and trends that are emerging from our current
involvement in the performing arts: a desire to expand beyond the traditional shoe-box
concert hall with new and more dynamic audience / performer relationships, to shape
more complex spaces and re-interpret the knowledge of acoustics in different
architectural languages, and more ambitious acoustical goals.
1. Alban Bassuet, “New Acoustical Parameters and Visualization Techniques to
Analyze the Spatial Distribution of Sound in Music Spaces”, ISRA 2010.
2. Alban Bassuet, “Acoustics of a Selection of Famous 18
Century Opera Houses:
Versailles, Markgräfliches, Drottningholm, Schwetzingen”, ASA, SFA,
Acoustics’ 08 conference, Paris 2008.
BUILDING ACOUSTICS · Volume 18 · Number 3, 4 · 2011 165
Figure 3. Arup Design developed for the Sinfonia Varsovia Competition with