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WQXR Features

Acoustics a Driving Force in New Gehry-Designed Hall

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On January 25, Miami’s New World Symphony will unveil its just-completed concert hall, the work of famed architect Frank Gehry. But the facility’s acoustic design, as much as its physical one, will be the focus of concertgoers.

“There were several impulses for the shape of our new space,” explained Howard Herring, president and CEO of the New World Symphony. “Gehry and acoustic designer Yasuhisa Toyota worked extremely closely together to create a hall that is beautiful but also, of course, functional.” The NWS will be the principal occupant of the New World Center, which includes a flexible seating performance hall, rehearsal facilities and the latest audio and video recording technology.

Quick to head off the threat that the hall’s design be driven by aesthetic, rather than acoustic, interests, Toyota took the initial lead. “Frank wanted to know all the necessary acoustic conditions before developing the architecture,” explained Toyota. “We developed the interior design first, and the rest of the architecture came later.”

At the center of what Toyota and Gehry came up with are large, acoustically reflective “sails” designed to surround the audience and also serve as projection surfaces. The pair has worked closely together on previous projects, including the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College and the Walt Disney Hall in L.A.

“The experiences that we've already had formed the basis of our design work at NWS,” said Toyota. “The biggest challenge was in finding the best way to accommodate a big, unamplified orchestra.”

Visitors enter the hall through its center, and are immediately greeted by a 360-degree view of the space. To simulate the conditions of a much larger concert space, Toyota focused on room shape and materials. The tall ceiling, rising to approximately 50 feet above the stage, aims to produce a warm resonance for orchestral music. In addition to the convex “sails,” Toyota also positioned small walls to surround the audience. Ceiling baffle surfaces have been coated with a thin layer of soft material to temper the tonal quality of high frequencies.

The hall seats close to 800 with room for another 1,000 outside to watch the action on a 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall. The facility also features rehearsal and study space. NWS is a post-collegiate training orchestra. Fellows study for three years before many go on to join ensembles around the world.

A six-day celebration will kick off the facility’s opening, including the world premiere of a newly commissioned work for orchestra by composer Thomas Adès, and the world premieres of commissioned videos by filmmaker Tal Rosner and digital artist Casey Reas.