Wave Harmonics

July 1, 2007
Acoustically flexible music and theater facility surfs into Southern California

By Amy L. Slingerland 

Sometimes architectural technology is at its best when it's heard and not seen. That was the idea behind the new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, CA. Completed in September 2006, the 2,000-seat Cesar Pelli-designed addition also includes the 500-seat Samueli Theater, an education center, a music library, backstage support areas, and offices. But the true drama begins before one even enters the hall. 

A single, clear, monolithic sheet of undulating glass resembling flowing water defines the striking entrance façade. "The wavy wall with its complete transparency is not only beautiful, it's exhilarating," says Cesar Pelli, FAIA, senior principal at New Haven, CT-based Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. The other three sides of the facility are clad with richly sculptured Mocha Crème Portuguese limestone, "which is just gorgeous in the light," adds Pelli.

The invitation extends inside, where the architecture and acoustics make beautiful music together. "Our intention was to create a space that would be the most wonderful room for listening to music," says Mitchell A. Hirsch, AIA, principal at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. "We were also designing a building that needed to be an integral part of a campus that includes the existing Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC) and the South Coast Repertory Theater." Because of the compact size of the building site, the design began from the inside out.

New York City-based theater planning and acoustic consulting firm Artec Consultants started with the number of seats the hall would accommodate, then worked out the room's dimensions based on the volume of air required to distribute and absorb the sound energy properly. Pelli then designed layers of sinuous balconies inspired by the ocean. "It's like sitting in a calm sea and seeing slow waves flow past you and break gently on the sand," says Pelli. All of those curves were carefully studied for sound effect and sightlines. The balconies are curved in such a way as to spread sound and not impede it.

Classical music purists can be critical of halls where orchestras need to be amplified to be heard correctly. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall was designed primarily for faithful rendering of orchestral and choral music without the need for any reinforcement. Because it also hosts other types of performances - from jazz to Broadway shows to rock - a more elaborate sound system was necessary.

Artec integrated adjustable design features that can be manipulated into different configurations to enhance and control various sound frequencies according to the type of music performed, whether natural or amplified. Above the stage, shimmering canopies, which echo the wave forms of the façade and balconies, raise and lower into different positions. Reverb chambers surrounding the hall, like giant windows, can be opened to different sizes, while curtains at the front of the hall and in the chambers absorb and balance different frequencies. Lifts and mobile units by Serapid allow a variety of stage and seating permutations.

"This building was designed like a Swiss watch," says Debra Gerod, AIA, partner at Los Angeles-based Gruen Associates and executive architect on the project. "Like any puzzle, having one piece of it vary from what was expected could impact other parts. The coordination of the detailing, fabrication, and installation had little room for error."

Mixing It Up

For performances requiring amplification, Artec Senior Consultant Geoff Zink worked with Loren Thies, OCPAC's soundman-in-charge, to design the sound system. Zink specified a ceiling speaker cluster of six Meyer Sound MSL-4s, five Meyer Sound CQ-2s, and seven Meyer Sound UPA-1Ps. In addition, stacks of Meyer Sound M2D speakers, five on each side, can be placed on the stage when needed. Two linked Yamaha PM-5D digital mixing consoles allow a tech on a touring show to use one while Thies mixes the symphony on the other.

The ceiling speaker cluster provided some unique challenges, says Garret Caine, vice president of design and engineering for AV systems integrator Thomas Gregor Associates, now part of Kezia Group in El Segundo, CA. "We had to engineer a structurally sound speaker cluster that would fit within the opening [the acoustical canopies] provided." Kezia worked with Meyer Sound to create 3-D models of the speaker configuration to ensure that any focusing that had to be done for the cluster allowed it to pass through the opening.

To accommodate shows that require a midhouse sound mixing position, a lift platform was installed on the orchestra seating level, about three-quarters of the way back. This platform travels from auditorium level down to a plenum level below, where seating platforms or sound and lighting gear can be interchanged. It is particularly useful in a venue that handles many different types of events. "It's an important tool that will ultimately save the owner a lot of money in operational costs," Zink explains.

Lyrical Lighting

When it came to lighting the hall, only acoustic-friendly fixtures would do. At the same time, the design would have to be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of theatrical and technical needs.

Balconies are accentuated with softly glowing, concealed cove lighting. To achieve the effect, architectural lighting designer Francesca Bettridge, IALD, principal of New York City-based Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design (CBBLD), chose LEDs instead of a traditional low-voltage system. "This was spurred by the Title 24 energy code in California and maintenance issues," explains Marty Salzberg, CBBLD's senior associate on the project. "The LED presented a solution that was much more energy efficient with a much longer life."

When the project began nearly 6 years ago, the only white LEDs available were a cool, bluish color temperature, which would not provide the aesthetics desired. Over the course of the project, warm-color-temperature-white LEDs were developed, allowing Bettridge to incorporate them into the design. CBBLD worked with Rancho Cordova, CA-based custom lighting manufacturers LED Effects and Frenchtown, NJ-based Designplan to create short segments of striplights. Nichia 1W LEDs on 2-inch centers with flexible connectors between the segments provide uniform illumination of the undulating coves.

This lighting also had to conform to certain acoustic parameters. "The acoustician was concerned about the shape of the housing the LEDs sat on and the shape of the heat sink so that they wouldn't become a drag on the air and create any noise or vibration that would affect the acoustics," Salzberg says. The custom fixtures' placement, form, and relationship to the air return were examined in minute detail. Bettridge adds, "When incorporating a new technology it's a little bit like walking through a mine field. But those are the risks that we all wanted to take to get the lighting we wanted."

LED striplight segments needed to be carefully placed to preserve the 2-inch centering of the LEDs and ensure even light distribution. "The challenge electrically was isolating everything so there's no harmonic distribution from all the electrical equipment," says Shawn O'Kelley, electrical engineer for Irving, TX-based construction management firm Fluor Daniel. Electrical conduit and transformers were buried within the infrastructure to preserve acoustic integrity.

Vari-Lite VL1000 tungsten fixtures, installed near the acoustical canopies, provide theatrical lighting and offer a low-noise solution that doesn't interfere with the canopies' performance. ETC Source Fours and Source Four Zooms are used for front-of-house and side lighting. OCPAC staff wanted a fixed lighting system in the overhead trusses to complement the VL1000s. ETC PARnels provide bright, even light under which classical musicians can read the most intricate scores. Symphony Pops shows use the VL1000s to add color and texture to the performers.

Opening on a High Note

Completing this masterpiece required the latest theater control technology including an AMX Net Link system and a fiber-optic ETC Net 3 network. "A lot of products at the beginning of the project matured into IP technology. Everybody worked very hard to future-proof the technology as much as possible," says Caine. In fact, when choosing the theatrical lighting control console, Caine looked to the new ETC Eos, which was still in the prototype phase at the time. Operators needed an easy-to-use Broadway-style console that also provided moving-light control, and the Eos was designed to fulfill both needs.

Equally fulfilling was the hall's successful debut season in which it was praised by conductors, musicians, and arts critics for the way its resonance, warmth, and stellar acoustic properties blend harmoniously with its opulent and inviting architecture. "It's absolutely breathtaking and you really feel transported," says Bettridge. Adds Pelli, "It feels completely generous and optimistic, and from every side you look at it, it's a very beautiful structure. And the sound is extraordinary."

Want to learn more about this project? Watch the webinar on October 10. Go to www.architechmag.com/webinars/avawards to register today. This event is free.


Meyer Sound MSL-4s, CQ-2s, UPA-1Ps, M2D speakers
Yamaha PM-5D digital mixing consoles
Nichia 1W LEDs
Vari-Lite VL1000 tungsten fixtures
ETC Sensor, Unision, Source Fours, Source Four Zooms, PARnels, Eos, Net 3 fiber-optic network
AMX Net Link system

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