When building a concert hall, architects have to consider how their structural choices are going to affect the sound. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Meyerson Symphony Center, Krys Boyd talked today on Think to the author of a book on the Meyerson about how the buildings’ designers factored acoustics into their plans.
Laurie Shulman says that there are three elements that combine to form the sound of a hall. The first is its shape. After studying concert halls around the world, the designers of the Meyerson chose a shoebox configuration.
“It is a common misperception when listening to a symphony orchestra that you are hearing sound coming directly at you from the stage – for example if you are sitting at rear-center orchestra," she says. "You are actually hearing sound coming at you from the sides, reflected down from the ceiling, reflected up from the floor.”
With the shape locked in, the designers had to decide how big to make the hall. Shulman says that more seats could actually fit in the Meyerson, but that would have been bad for the sound.
The final decision concerns materials. Hard surfaces like wood or marble provide better sound reflection. Carpet tends to deaden sound.
“They thought very carefully about every single material on the seats, on the sides on the ceiling and on the floor, and, of course, on the stage itself," she says.
All of those tiny decisions, when added together, give the Meyerson what acousticians call “audible tail.”
“That sense of the sound just hovering in the air," she says. "Not an echo, so much as reverberence.”
That’s the kind of detail that makes a good hall great.
Tomorrow morning, as part of Art&Seek’s Secrets of the Meyerson series, Jerome Weeks explains how its designers borrowed the most successful design elements from the world’s greatest concert halls. And you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Meyerson at artanseek.org/meyerson.