The Crazy Art of Designing Concert Halls

Designing a room for perfect sound is part science, part art. So how does one go about building the perfect concert hall? takes a look.

When Charles Garnier designed the Paris Opera in the 1870’s, he said that architecting the acoustics of a room was a “bizarre science.” Garnier compared the acoustician to an acrobat “who closes his eyes and clings to the ropes of an ascending balloon.”

More than a century later, how sound moves through a room is still sometimes a mystery.

At the spherical Mapparium, a so-called “whispering gallery” in Boston, sound sometimes behaves in strange ways. In some parts of the room sound seems to come from strange directions and it appears to double in volume if two people stand precisely two meters from the room’s center. Nobody is precisely sure why.

The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is considered one of the finest acoustic spaces in the world, its sound architecture hailed as “perfect.” Yet when the acoustician behind it, Yasuhisa Toyota, was asked how he achieved that perfection, he said that after making small models to test sounds and make adjustments, “all we can do is just pray.”

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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