Whereas some buildings can survive on their looks alone, concert halls and opera houses must appeal to the ears as well as the eyes. The degree to which contemporary performance venues succeed on both fronts is the focus of Site and Sound: The Architectural and Acoustics of New Opera Houses and Concert Halls (The Monacelli Press, $50), a thoughtful new book by architectural historian Victoria Newhouse. Though she provides historical context through an overview that goes back to Greek amphitheaters, the author’s primary interest is in the present. She offers firsthand impressions on the acoustics and aesthetics of recent projects from around the world—including spaces designed by Pritzker Prize winners Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel—and also previews a few that are yet to come. Here, AD presents some of the highlights.
Completed in 2010, Zaha Hadid’s futuristic Guangzhou Opera House comprises two buildings. The larger, sheathed in black granite, contains the primary theater, shown, while a smaller, clad in complementary white stone, is a multiuse hall. The opera house’s acoustics are enhanced by half-inch scoops in the fiberglass-reinforced gypsum walls; dotting the undulating ceiling are 4,000 twinkling LED lights.
Oslo Opera House (Photo: Christopher Hagelund/Birdseyepix.com; courtesy of the Monacelli Press)
Oslo Opera House, built in 2008, rises steeply from the adjacent fjord. Its sloping roof doubles as a promenade and appears, as author Victoria Newhouse notes, “to extend to infinity due to the absence of visible rails or balustrades.”
Charles Wyly Theatre (Photo: Iwan Baan; courtesy of the Monacelli Press)
Everything about the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in
Dallas is unconventional, Newhouse observes. A collaboration between architects Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX and Rem Koolhaas of OMA, the 2009 building features an auditorium wrapped in sound-diffusing glass curtain walls, exposing it to the exterior.
New World Center (Photo: Iwan Baan; courtesy of the Monacelli Press)
Frank Gehry and completed in 2011,
Miami Beach, Florida’s New World Center—home to the celebrated New World Symphony—has an exterior projection wall, which, much to the delight of picnicking music lovers outside, allows for simulcasts of performances.
Danish Radio Concert Hall (Photo: Philippe Ruault; courtesy of the Monacelli Press)
Inside Jean Nouvel’s Danish Radio Concert Hall in
Copenhagen, vineyard-style seating and angular balconies surround the stage. The exterior of the 2009 building is clad in an eye-catching royal-blue fiberglass mesh. “This is architecture that is full of surprises,” writes Newhouse, referring to the moving imagery that, come nightfall, is projected on the hall’s exterior and interior.