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Venue spotlight: an in-depth look at Berlin’s new Pierre Boulez Saal concert hall

A highly ambitious new music academy and concert hall build in Berlin has acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota and a voice alarm system supplied by Amptown System Company GmbH. Simon Duff reports…

The newly-opened Pierre Boulez Saal building in Berlin houses a new 683-seat concert hall, as well as a new home for the Barenboim-Said Akademie. The hall has been designed by the famous American architect Frank Gehry, and will be the public face of the Akademie, which was founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999.

It teaches up to 100 fellowship students from the Middle East and it’s also where the newly founded Boulez Ensemble – which consists mainly of members of the Staatskapelle Berlin and of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – has found a musical home.

Along with the concert hall, the new facility contains a 100-seat lecture hall, several seminar rooms and 21 rehearsal rooms. Berlin-based RW + Architects was responsible for the project schedule, tendering procedure and site supervision. The building itself is the former stage depot of the German State Opera House, where Amptown System Company has designed the newly-installed architectural lighting and voice alarm system. Project construction started in May 2014 with completion in March 2017, at a total cost of €35.1 million, funded by a mixture of state and private finance.

The acoustical design of the hall is focused on providing a space for a full orchestra rehearsal within a concert hall for chamber music

Yasuhisia Toyata

The concert hall has been named after the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez who died in 2016. Its oval, modular design is characterised by two ellipses, the axes of which are offset against each other, creating the impression that the tiers are floating weightlessly in space.

The Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, from Nagata Acoustics, is responsible for the acoustics of the concert hall, designed to be an ideal venue for soloists, chamber music, and small orchestras. Toyota’s other notable projects include the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, Suntory Hall, Tokyo and the renovation of the Sydney Opera House. The Pierre Boulez Saal’s innovative design organises the seating in an oval shape around the performers in the centre of the square room.

In order to accommodate the seats as well as the space for a large orchestra rehearsal, a highly flexible seating layout was developed. At the centre of the room, on the same level as the musicians, there are three rows of loose seats. Then, four rows of seats are installed on retractable risers. Together with the balcony above, the loose seats and retractable risers offer many different performance configurations. The hall seats up to 682 visitors, and each guest is seamlessly integrated into the space. The seating can be adapted to the number of musicians and, above all, to the repertoire being performed. Each vantage point offers a different take on the concert.

“The acoustical design of the hall is focused on providing a space for a full orchestra rehearsal within a concert hall for chamber music,” explains Yasuhisa Toyota.

“The most important design direction to accommodate a full orchestra is to keep enough ceiling height above the stage. Since the project is the renovation of an existing building, there were many restrictions. The final result places the stage at the bottom of the building so that we can make the most use of the existing structure. Thus the entire volume is used acoustically.

The maximum distance between the conductor and the farthest seat is about 14 metres. The balcony is designed like a ring and tied back into two new concrete walls.

Toyota comments: “The balcony structure is a concrete truss with a trapezoid cross section, with an openness factor of over 35% for acoustics. Like a speaker, the open face of the structure is clad with acoustically transparent material that lets the sound pass through and reflect off the main walls of the room. With the audience positioned so close to the musicians and performers there is no need for a permanently installed venue PA. However when IRCAM projects, for example, are presented at the venue, PA can be accommodated.”

The walls and the ceiling in the concert hall are made of vertical grain douglas fir panels. The surfaces requiring air permeability are either left open or clad with speaker fabric.

For acoustic reasons, the wall and ceiling surfaces are slightly undulated, and the windows are built out of three layers of glass to achieve sound separation to the street.

The Pierre Boulez Saal public call for tenders included the voice alarm system, that combined a state of system and stage management equipment in an innovative approach. Amptown System Company, who was awarded with the job, worked in collaboration with PAV GmbH to install a fully digital DSM40 voice alarm system certified to DIN VDE K20833-4 which is interconnected with a fire alarm system certified to the European Standard ISO DIN 14675. This then ensures that in the event of an emergency, visitors can leave the building in an organised fashion via escape routes which were previously defined. Apart from its principal application it can also be used as a public address system, or for background music and offers a variety of options including volume EQ, and delay. The intercom system was customised and can be operated via an ADUNAS Media Control System.

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