6 of the World’s Best Sounding Concert Halls and the Science behind Their Architectural Acoustics
The science and engineering behind the acoustics of a building plays an integral role in shaping the experience of symphony lovers, concert hall attendees, and overall, opera enthusiasts.
Also known as room acoustics, architectural acoustics is the science and engineering of achieving a good sound within a building and is a branch of acoustical engineering.
Acoustic architecture is responsible for ensuring the speech is intelligible to an audience in a theatre, restaurant or railway station, enhancing the quality of music in a concert hall or recording studio, or suppressing noise to make offices and homes more productive and pleasant places to work and live in.
No better place does this manifest than in the grandiose concert halls across the world.
Not only do these architectural styles embody different time periods, visions and cultures, the design of the buildings very much dictate your experience within the building.
So, how exactly does it work?
The Perfect Acoustics
The first application of modern scientific methods to architectural acoustics was pioneered by the American physicist Wallace Sabine, the founder of the field of study.
He applied the science to the Fogg Museum lecture room and later applied it to the world-famous Boston Symphony Hall.
Using a simple stopwatch, Sabine tested the acoustics of the lecture hall in the Fogg Art Museum utilizing sound and the number of seat cushions, creating an equation for reverberation time.
Sabine was the first to consider the materials in a concert/lecture hall and factor them in sound absorption. Prior to Sabine, architects and designers worked purely on intuition.
If you are on the chase for great acoustics, the following concert halls are some of the best around the world, offering tremendous immersion. Let’s begin.
Philharmonie de Paris, France
One of the more modern concert halls on the list, the Philharmonie de Paris is a tremendous architectural feat, opening in January of 2015.
Brought to life by the French architect Jean Nouvel and the Marshall Day Acoustics team, the collaborative team labored and designed the interior of the building to ensure that the surface of the building perfectly reflects the acoustics of the performances.
This allows for optimal acoustics for audience members.
Opera City Concert Hall, Tokyo
When you think of a concert hall, you may not think of the shoebox style that characterizes the world famous Opera City, Concert Hall. Yet, the concert hall’s rectilinear, orthogonal shapes and regular horizontal rows of windows or glass walls still get the job done when creating an amazing sound experience.
Audio pioneer and architect Takahiko Yanagisawa, worked hard to create a space that does something very unique. Due to the mixture of the building’s unconventional design and use of materials the concert hall is able to create the sonic illusion that it is much larger than it is, without the use of electronic speakers.
The solid oak ceilings and walls designed with angled grooves help diffract and reflect sound, bouncing acoustics between surfaces high above you as you are enjoying the concert. Even the uniquely designed walls help diffuse high frequencies.
Going all the way back to 1812, the Musikverein has a neoclassical charm that is very hard to resist. People from all around the world have come to experience its beauty as well as its stunning acoustics. Built by Danish-born architect Theophil Hansen, the concert hall is smaller than some of its modern peers but makes up for it with large immersive sound.
Designed intuitively without the modern science of architectural acoustics, sounds bounce off of the different planes and angles, creating memorable acoustics that surrounds audiences.
Concertgebouw held the honor at one point as one of the most respected and most visited concert halls across the world.
Interestingly, during the time of its construction in the 1880s, architects still had not mastered the power of acoustics. During its earlier years, the concert hall struggled to get acoustics just right for audience members.
By making adjustments to the steepness of its risers, the concert hall was able to achieve the perfect acoustic balance.
Boston Symphony Hall, Boston
People and performers around the world flock to the Boston Symphony Hall, making it one of the world’s top venues for classical music.
Designed in 1900, the Boston Symphony Hall was one of the first concert halls to fully embrace the science behind architectural acoustics. Wallace Sabine created a mathematical formula to help predict the reverberation time before the building was constructed.
Each part of the building was designed to optimize the sound experience for the audience. The walls, ceilings, and floor all slope towards the audience, while the seats are an optimal five inches apart.
All of this allows for an unforgettable sound experience, no matter where you are experiencing the show.
Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany
Created by Herzog & de Meuron alongside Yasuhisa Toyota, and ONE TO ONE studio, the collaborative project had the aim of creating a consistent sonic experience for the 2,150 seated audience members.
The team used advanced sound algorithms released by coral reef-like structures of more than 10,000 acoustic panels lining the ceiling, walls, and balustrades. The uneven surfaces either absorb or scatter the sounds across the auditorium.