The mutual interconnection between physical space and sound cumulates in the moment when the conductor sweeps the crescendo into his fists and the applause thunders off the walls of the theatre.
Modern day acoustics is sometimes described as an attempt to contain the elusive nature of live music – passing, ephemeral, and impossible to relive beyond the tape-recorders and tiny notes on a music sheet. The search for the best possible spatial sound can be traced all the way back to the open-air, semicircular Roman amphitheaters, yet many architects and performers today are still in the pursuit of a pinnacle manifestation of music, space, and artistic freedom.
“I call architecture frozen music,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and frozen music is perhaps the best way of describing the mathematical elements of a composition’s harmonic dimensions. Broken to its simplest form, music is a complex layer of wavelengths stacked on top of one another. Depending on the interior surfaces of the building, sound waves can be echoed and reverbed by bouncing off reflective interior surfaces like marble and ceramic, or they can become muted when absorbed or dampened by carpeted surfaces.
The challenge for modern acoustic architects is to balance their artistic constructions with a space that would reflect sound in a desirable manner for specific kinds of music. Just as how coastal geography is sculpted by ocean waves, architectural acoustics is a frozen, immortalisation of a split-second harmonic impact.
Here are some undulating buildings and concert halls around the world dedicated to music that are pushing the boundaries of symmetry, balance, and harmony.
La Seine Musicale, Paris
Docked at the western tip of Île Seguin (Seguin Island), La Seine Musicale carries Hauts-de-Seine’s industrial legacy forward as a new cultural emblem of musical discovery. The former automobile assembly plant site now sits a 36,500-square-metre architectural tour de force that is comprised of a 6,000-seat auditorium, a rehearsal hall, several conference rooms, and an expansive rooftop garden.
At the heart of Tokyo-born architect Shigeru Ban’s and his Parisian associate Jean de Gastines’s work of genius is the Grand Seine, an egg-shaped 6,000-seater auditorium encased in a glass-and-timber frame and sheltered by a mobile triangular solar-paneled sail that follows the path of the sun to maximise sunlight.
Encircling a central stage area, the walls and ceiling of the concert hall is lined with a mosaic of acoustic panels made from different woods and fireproof paper tubes to create an arresting, rich, and intimate sensorial experience.
A space of emotion, of practicality, and of sound, for discovery, the Grand Seine has a “folding” door for visitors to walk through the building anytime. There’s also a big screen outside so that even non-ticket holders can appreciate the show.
National Music Center, Canada
At the heart of Canada’s National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary, Alberta, is Allied Works Architecture’s (AWA) “most ambitious building project to date”.
Studio Bell dons a glazed terra cotta exterior over its nine interlocking towers and skybridge that houses a 300-seat performance hall, recording facility, broadcast studio, live music venue and exhibition space. The main performance hall is a transformative space that allows for both intimate performances and all-encompassing experiences thanks to its flexible seating and a movable acoustic wall.
With the integration of a legendary blues club housed in the 1905 King Edward Hotel, Studio Bell puts Canada’s rich musical history at the forefront and serves as an inspiration for architects and musicians on how a truly collaborative process that result in a vessel that ripples with music and light.
Carmen Würth Forum, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Partially burrowed in the middle of an open field in Baden-Württemberg, Germany is a structure that captures both the essence of minimalistic architecture and the reverberation of orchestral music. The Carmen Würth Forum is a cultural and convention center that is embedded in the landscape, with the chamber musical hall hidden beneath a natural mount.
Brought to life by British architect David Chipperfield, the 11,000 square-metre space comprises a large event hall as well as the Reinhold Würth Hall, a chamber music hall that seats up to 600 people and completely lined with French walnut to create an intimate, acoustically-sound music experience. The floor and chamber music hall seating are also fondly coloured in red, the Würth Group’s corporate colour.
Centre For Music, Barbican, London (Coming Soon)
Image: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
The Centre for Music will be the “envy of the international arts, music and education community”. Designed by lead architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the Centre will host a world-class concert hall, a multi-purpose foyer, commercial floors and an intimate music venue at the top.
“Visually breathtakingly, acoustically perfect, and a stated commitment to being totally inclusive, the Centre for Music would bring together outstanding performers and diverse audiences,” says Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chair of the City of London Corporation.
Within the tapered, pyramid shape tower is the heart of the Centre; the concert hall reconciles an inclusive and intimate experience by giving the audience a 360-viewpoint of the stage in the middle with its surround-seating configuration and exceptional symphonic sound.
Outernet London, Soho, London (Coming Soon)
Industrial architecture meets the digital age in the world’s first global network of music and event amphitheatres, developed by Skansa and Orms. The Outernet London will stand as an immersive media space in London’s most bustling district.
A structural melding of timber, metal and 8k, 360-degree floor-to-ceilings screens, The Outernet is nothing short of an architectural cyborg that promises immersive digital and music experiences. Inside the main atrium and away from the pixelated walls is a 2,000 capacity underground live music venue that is dedicated to the rock and roll pedigree of the surrounding venues such as Denmark Street, the birthplace of Britain’s first headbangers.
President & CEO of the development of Outernet, Philip Bourchier O'Ferrall, said, “The Outernet London will be our first site, and will be a truly unique cultural amphitheatre for Londoners. From immersive, digitally-enabled brand experiences, to live music performances to retail, this will be a destination that will be set up to cater for the needs of any Londoner or visitor to the capital.”
The Outernet London is set to open in 2020 and will be followed by the development of future Outernets in cities across the globe such as New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Dubai.
Cover Image: Studio Bell / Bittermann Photography
Writer | Cheryl
Cheryl is a freelance writer and third-culture kid with a lifelong ambition to become a polyglot. In another life, she's a responsible, tax-paying citizen who spends her extra income on chocolates and matcha.