News 15-12 (No.336)
Issued : December 25, 2015
“River”—A Unique Building in an Abundant Natural Landscape
By Chiaki Ishiwata
View of Entire Building "River"
About an hour north of New York City in the town of New Canaan, Connecticut, Grace Farms Foundation has a new community building that I wish to introduce to our readers. Many of our readers will recognize the town name of New Canaan as the location of architect Philip Johnson’s “Glass House”.
Grace Farm Foundation’s new building opened in October, 2015, during the time of year when the area’s trees turn to red and gold. Standing inside the new building, I saw the autumn landscape framed by the building’s floor and ceiling. The natural landscape lent the building a beauty reminiscent of painted Japanese emakimomo scrolls. For the first time in some years I thought of how the Japanese phrase Kinshu (“autumn brocade”) expresses the imagery of this special time of year.
<< Overview of of the Church and Community Center Project >>
Some time ago, a handful of New Canaan families formed a bible study group and, later on, the group decided it needed a physical location to be the central focus of its activities. With this goal in mind, the group purchased the land that became home to The River.
As the project’s architect, the group chose the Japanese firm SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, principals). The property where the project would be built included undulating hills and the highest point of the property is 30 m. (98 ft) above its lowest point. In the past, the land was used to pasture race horses. The generous property extends across 75 acres (304,000 sq. m.) and has trails for walking and a pond in addition to the pasture land.
Roof designed as a River
SANAA proposed a facility that meanders through the property like a river and is designed as an integral element of the landscape. The building would eventually come to be referred to by the name “River”. When viewed from the property’s highest location, the silver-colored roof of the facility looks like a river winding through the property.
River combines the functionalities and spaces of a church and community center. Beneath the roof that looks as if it is a flowing river, some of the spaces have glass walls from floor to ceiling. Where necessary—due to variations in the property’s topography—some of the rooms are below grade. River houses a gymnasium, dining room, library, office space and the sanctuary that accommodates up to 700 people for Sunday worship services.
<< Design of the Sanctuary’s Room Acoustics >>
For the project overall, a local acoustical consultant provided the acoustical consulting services. At the strong request of SANAA, the client hired Nagata Acoustics for the room acoustics of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is entirely enclosed in glass walls. Because of this design, one part of our work focused on the possibility that the glass walls’ sound reflections would produce undesirable sound phenomena. The client visited Tokyo, where we met and discussed how the sanctuary would be used, and confirmed that the sanctuary’s primary use is for worship services and sermons.
We performed computer simulations based on the architect’s plans and carefully considered all of the details of the sanctuary interior. Based on our calculations and analysis, we addressed our concern about avoiding the propagation of undesirable sound phenomena by adding retractable curtains along the walls.
For the sanctuary’s reverberation time we set the goal of a moderate length appropriate to spaces used primarily for speech. In keeping with this goal we specified the placement of sound-absorbing material along a portion of the ceiling.
The material for this purpose is a kind of perforated board that has small holes on one side and larger openings on its other side. The side with small perforations are set facing the interior of the sanctuary. The panels we used for this project are similar to the Topakustic products we discussed in the December, 2010 issue of this newsletter. Above the perforated panels we installed glass wool.
In Japan, Topakustic and comparable products have not yet come into common use despite their being visually appealling and therefore easily adopted as part of an architect’s design. At Grace Farms, the perforated ceiling panels were also hired for the gymnasium and the dining room.
In addition to designing the sanctuary’s room acoustics based on how the sanctuary will be used, we also addressed the room’s expected variations in occupancy levels because the project’s programming determined that the level of occupany will vary greatly. To minimize the affect of greater or lesser attendance on the sanctuary’s reverberation characteristic we installed seats that have upholstered seats and backs instead of the typical wood pews common in many worship spaces.
The selection of upholstery material for the sanctuary’s seats took place during the construction phase of the project. At one point the suggestion arose to use leather. However, leather would not be much help with sound absorption when there is low attendance in the sanctuary and if a person in a leather seat sweats some sound is created as the person adjusts his or her sitting position. For these reasons, we advised the client to select a material other than leather for the upholstery. The client agreed and instead selected a cloth fabric.
<< The River’s Inaugural Celebration >>
For River’s 2-day inaugural celebrations, which began on Friday, October 9, 2015. Prior to the start of the celebrations I attended a rehearsal in the sanctuary and experientially checked the acoustics of the completed project. This was my first visit to the site.
Grace Farms Foundation extended invitations to attendees for a daytime inaugural ceremony held in the sanctuary and a dance performance in the gymnasium. In the evening, the folk/soul/pop fusion singer Aloe Blacc gave a benefit concert in the sanctuary.
On the second day of the celebration the foundation opened River to the general public and offered tours of the facilities, a lecture by SANAA architects and a multi-genre collaborative performance by a jazz trio, a chorus and dancers. The next day was the the first Sunday after River’s opening. A commemorative worship service was held in the morning with every seat filled.
The variety of events scheduled in the sanctuary during the inaugural celebrations extended beyond the space’s planned uses. While the client told me that the celebration’s event lineup would be a challenge, I had a bit of trepidation about what the listeners’ experience would be. As things turned out, I was happily able to confirm that the sanctuary can be used for many different purposes. The sanctuary provided fine acoustics for all of the events and performances.
The inaugural celebration afforded me the the opportunity to consider if the space would be appropriate or not for certain kinds of event or performances and what arrangements might be made in the sanctuary to broaden the variety of possible uses. When I returned to my office in Japan I wrote a report for the foundation with my observations regarding the sanctuary’s acoustics and some advice on how to best use the space for diverse purposes. I heard that the comments from everyone who attended the events and performances say only good things about the acoustics, and I was relieved that the facility had met its “challenge” and had a successful start.
Tours of River and a variety of events and performances already mark the facility’s calendar in abundance. Information about upcoming events and about the Grace Farms foundation, as well as video clips of River’s beautiful surroundings can be found at the foundation's website: http://www.gracefarms.org/
The Concert at Nagaoka City Hall Plaza’s “Ao-Re Nagaoka”
By Akira Ono
People enjoy Nabe-Ryori at Festival
“Ao-Re Nagaoka” is the unique complex in Nagaoka City that combines the city’s municipal offices and the seat of the city government with a large-scale arena, a multipurpose cultural hall, and an exhibition space—all of which are situated to surround “Naka-Doma” Plaza. A roof covers the plaza but preserves the feeling of an outdoor market atmosphere so that the space can be used for a wide range of events regardless of the weather. I previously wrote about Ao-Re Nagaoka in the June, 2012 issue of this newsletter, shortly after the complex first opened.
The Ao-Re Nagaoka complex is located near Nagaoka Station and the complex’s original planning included the goal of attracting local residents who would otherwise get in their cars and visit a suburban shopping mall that offers free parking. In the years since the complex’s 2012 opening, the city and Ao-Re Nagaoka have funded Nagaoka Mirai Sozo Network, an organization charged with fostering creative activities in the city. Through the successful efforts of the network, the complex’s arena, hall, exhibition space and Naka-Doma Plaza have become regularly used venues and Ao-Re Nagaoka has become a popular destination.
<< October Nabe Festival and A Concert in the City Council Chambers >>
On October 25, 2015, Naka-Doma Plaza was used as the venue for a Nabe Festival. Nabe are the clay pots used on stove tops to cook one-pot meals. Restaurants from Niigata Prefecture and other Tohoku prefectures came to Nagaoka for the festival, set up booths and cooked their favorite recipes. The plaza filled with people who came to try different restaurants’ nabe-ryori (“one-pot dishes”) and enjoy the smell of the delicious aromas and the festival atmosphere.
In addition to food, the festivities included a classical music concert in the city council’s chambers. This was the first time the council chambers were used for a concert. The occasion was publicized as a commemoration of the rebuilding of the area after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011.
Eight musicians from the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performed the concert. This orchestra has a business alliance relationship with Nagaoka City that the city established to develop cultural exchange among residents through the medium of classical music. One aspect of the alliance is the orchestra’s regular performances at venues throughout the city. Prior to the concert in the city council’s chambers, Tokyo Philharmonic musicians performed for an audience of all the city’s fifth grade students , bringing a classical music experience of outstanding quality to the youth of the city. Future events will enable Nagaoka City residents of all ages to experience classical music.
The 8 musicians who performed in the city council chambers included some of Tokyo Philharmonic’s most stellar players, including concert master Akihiro Miura and the first chairs of the orchestra’s second violin, viola and cello sections. During the hour-long program, the octet played a selection of classical music compositions and in-between each performance Mr. Miura spoke brief introductory remarks about each instrument. This combination of performing and speaking made the concert a comfortable event even for listeners not familiar with classical music concerts. The attendee list of 140 persons was selected at random from among high school students and other local residents who had submitted their names in advance of the event.
<< Acoustics of Nagaoka City Council Chambers >>
Concert in the City Council Chambers
The acoustics of the Nagaoka City Council Chambers space was designed for clarity of speech, with sound-absorbing material on most of the ceiling and carpeted floors—not a space that could be said to be a natural or obvious fit for a string octet. Nevertheless, the musicians played with such incredible teamwork and cohesiveness that they seemed to breathe as one, and the ceiling’s decorative panels inspired by Nagaoka’s fireworks provided surfaces for adequate sound reflections that blended very well with the musicians’ perfectly timed performances. From the acoustical perspective, I felt that the venue gave fine support to the performers and their music.
In Japan there has been a recent trend in a number of locales to use city council or assembly chambers as concert venues during times when the venues are not in use for government business. Project programming for new city council chambers now also routinely includes use of this kind of space for concerts as well as for council or assembly discussion, speeches and debate.
Following legally revise in 2016, its minimum voting age to include 18 year olds. The organizers of the concert in the city council chambers want young residents to become familiar with the venue and this desire influenced the decision to hold the October concert there. With the success of the first concert, plans will now go forward for future concerts in the Nagaoka City council chambers.
Nagata Acoustics Inc.
Hongo Segawa Bldg. 3F, 2-35-10 Hongo
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
Tel: +81-3-5800-2671, Fax: +81-3-5800-2672
1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 795
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: +1-310-231-7878, Fax: +1-310-231-7816
75, avenue Parmentier
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 21 44 25, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 21 24 00