Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS

News 11-09 (No.285)

Issued : September 25, 2011

[ Japanese Version ]

Helsinki Music Centre - A New Vineyard Configuration Concert Hall - Opens

By Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota

Fig 1. Helsinki Music Centre (illustration by Laiho-Pulkkinen-Raunio Architects)
Fig 1. Helsinki Music Centre
(illustration by Laiho-Pulkkinen-Raunio Architects)

The Helsinki Music Centre I wrote about three months ago (in a June, 2011 article discussing the importance of the hall's first rehearsal) held its inaugural concert on August 31, 2011. The 1,704-seat concert hall is the new home hall of both of Finland's two major orchestras, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Both orchestras moved here from Finlandia Hall, which stands adjacent to the new Helsinki Music Centre.

The orchestras share the new Music Centre building with Finland's one music university, Sibelius Academy. In addition to the main concert hall, Helsinki Music Centre has 6 small halls, each designed for a different specific purpose, including a 240-seat orchestra rehearsal hall, a 240-seat chamber music hall, a 140-seat pipe organ hall, a 206-seat (increasable to 284-seat) hall for vocal music, a 225-to-400-seat "Black Box" alternative performance space and an 82-seat auditorium, as well as multiple practice rooms sized for ensembles or solo use. The Music Centre's overall layout is shown and identified in the 3D illustration of Fig. 1 and the related Table 1 data chart.

Table 1. Helsinki Music Centre data chart
Table 1. Helsinki Music Centre data chart

<<Helsinki Music Centre Project Chronology >>

During 1999 and 2000, the owners (State of Finland, Helsinki City and Finnish Broadcasting Company) conducted a design competition to select the project's architect. Nagata Acoustics began our consulting work on the project one year earlier, in 1998. My article about this phase of the project appeared in our November, 2000 newsletter.

While the architect selection process completed in 2000, work on the hall's design began in 2005. The design process, including building and testing in the 1/10 model, continued through the latter half of 2007, and then construction began in the second half of 2008. We wrote about acoustical testing in the 1/10 model in our February, 2007 newsletter and discussed the construction implementation of aspects of the sound isolation design in the October, 2009 newsletter. Construction was substantially complete this past spring (2011). The project duration from the start of the design phase through the end of construction lasted 6 years.

<<Advantages of this Hall's Vineyard Configuration >>

In the design competition of 1999-2000, the winning architectural proposal used a vineyard configuration for the hall footprint and the audience seating arrangement. The work of the architectural design phase made a fair number of adjustments and refinements to the design details, but the fundamentals of the originally proposed design stayed the same. The audience seating surrounds the stage in a staggered layout of blocks of seats. Our room interior design strategically located the blocks of seats to create wall sections that serve as effective sound reflecting surfaces. Fig. 2 shows the plan view of this layout.

Fig 2. Plan view of the Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall
Fig 2. Plan view of
the Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall

In this concert hall, the two-dimensional perimeter of the blocks of audience seating has a rectangular shape, differentiating it from, for example, the complex footprint of the audience seating in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, which is justly considered the progenitor of the vineyard configuration, as well as from halls such as Sapporo Concert Hall Kitara that have audience seating areas with footprints shaped like an open Japanese fan. The ability to vary the overall shape of the audience seating's footprint is an important distinguishing characteristic of the vineyard configuration and a characteristic that gives the concert hall design team great flexibility. The shoebox configuration always requires that the hall have a rectangular footprint with a narrow width, a constraint that contrasts starkly with the flexibility available with the vineyard configuration.

Among the many reasons why the Helsinki Music Centre owners chose to build a hall with a vineyard configuration, here I will focus on the fact that, compared with the stage of a shoebox configuration, the stage of a vineyard configuration can be set at a closer distance to the entire audience, thereby increasing the sense of intimacy between the audience and the performers. Also, when the audience seating surrounds the stage, audience patrons can see the faces of other people in the audience. This creates a sense of intimacy and connectedness among and between the audience patrons. The proof of this came on August 31 at the inaugural concert when for the first time an entire audience flowed into the hall, took their seats and experienced being in the sold-out hall. People had the feeling of participating in a masterpiece about to happen. As I and others looked out into the hall and to our left and right, we saw rows of other faces equally brimming with eager anticipation. A taste of how this felt can be gleaned from the photo of Fig. 3.

Fig. 3. Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall on Opening Night
Fig. 3. The Concert Hall on Opening Night

When the superb concert began to sound in the hall, the delight of the entire full house permeated the hall, visually in the audience's facial expressions as well as acoustically in the music. It came home to me that I was savoring the true charm of the vineyard configuration and surround seating experience.

<< The Inaugural Concert Program - Just Right for This Hall >>

The hall's two resident orchestras played the starring roles on the inaugural concert program, beginning with a joint performance of Sibelius' "Finlandia" conducted by Maestro Jukka-Pekka Saraste. The chorus stood in the aisles of the audience seating and beautifully delivered the famous Finlandia Hymn portion of the work. In Finland, the Finlandia symphonic poem and especially this hymn are as dear to the Finnish people as national anthems are in other lands. At the height of the hymn's performance, when words and music rang through Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall rich and clear, one did not need to be a Finn to be deeply moved.

The evening's most incredible performance was surely the last piece on the program, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra's performance of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" conducted by Maestro Sakari Oramo. This work, with its many rhythm changes and dissonant sound combinations, ranks as one of the most complex and difficult compositions ever written for orchestra. In the new concert hall, the composition resounded powerfully in the hall and at the same time reached every corner of the hall with clarity of tone.

<<The Vineyard Hall Configuration - Excellent for Obtaining Early Sound Reflections >>

Rich, full-bodied sound and very clear tones often seem like mutually exclusive elements of a hall's acoustics, but achieving the optimal realization of both these characteristics is acoustically important and was one of the key objectives for the acoustics of Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall. To create rich sound, a longish reverberation time may be the most effective means. However, if the reverberation time becomes too long, clarity becomes adversely affected.

To obtain clear tones, the acoustical room design must cause sufficient production of early sound reflections, because early sound reflections play an essential role in obtaining clarity of sound. A concert hall's shape significantly affects the production of early sound reflections. It seems to me that the vineyard hall configuration provides a more appropriate shape for effectively producing the early sound reflections that are so important in determining how a concert hall sounds.

<<Modern and Contemporary Classical Music Needs the Vineyard Hall Configuration >>

The day after the Helsinki Music Centre inaugural concert, I flew to Vienna and spent 3 days attending concerts at the Musikverein. Whenever I attend a performance in this epitome of shoebox-type halls, the beautiful richness of the hall's sound overwhelms me.

However, with regard to clarity of sound, the new vineyard configuration concert hall in Helsinki Music Centre produces clearer tones than does the Musikverein. In the Helsinki concert hall, the musical structure of compositions reaches the ears of the audience with distinct clarity. At least for modern and contemporary compositions such as the Stravinsky repertoire, I am of the strong opinion that these works sound best when heard in vineyard configuration halls.

Recently Opened Karakida Shobukan Promotes Community in Tama Region

By Ayako Hakozaki

Karakida Shobukan exterior
Karakida Shobukan exterior

This past spring, Karakida Shobukan, a new community center, opened for residents of the Tama high-density, landscaped suburban and commuter town in southwestern Tokyo. The new center is located on a tree-lined street near Odakyu Tama Train Line's Karakida Station. The building's gently curved, exposed concrete walls peek out at pedestrians from behind the trees and the verdant lawn roof gives the impression of a grass-covered hillock on the horizon.

The building's novel architecture and green roof do not look like your typical public works structure. Inside, the building houses Tokyo's Tama City public community center, a library and indoor children's playrooms. Architecturally, the building interior mirrors the curved exterior, with convex exposed concrete walls punctuated by square indentations achieved through the use of square snap ties. (Snap ties are fittings used to stabilize concrete forms, usually conical in shape.) These design elements combine with the random pattern of the ceiling light fixtures' placement to create a visually rhythmical atmosphere inside the facility.

Shobukan means Iris Hall in Japanese. In the past, the villages that populated this area were known for the abundant irises that bloomed here in early summer, a perennial source of delight to the eyes of local residents. The new community center's name has its origins in the region of the iris flower.

The firm of Chiaki Arai Urban and Architecture Design provided the architectural design for the building and a joint venture of Miura Kensetsu Co. and Asakura Kensetsu Co. served as the general contractor. Nagata Acoustics participated in the capacity of Acoustical Consultant of the community center's hall, a music practice room and the children's playrooms.

The hall
The hall

The hall is a flat-floored room that accommodates about 100 stackable chairs. The project's programming plans for this room covered a wide range of activities and events, including lectures and town hall style meetings as well as piano and choral recitals. In addition, the hall's planners requested that the hall be able to be used for exercise classes. Because of this intended use and the location of the hall directly above the building's library, we specified "sports floor" on a concrete slab of the hall to effectively isolate the expected floor impact noise that will be generated during exercise classes. We also specified the same kind of "sports floor" on a concrete slab of the floors of the playrooms where children will run and jump during play.

For the music practice room we anticipated that band practice and other music ensembles will generate large sound volumes. The music room is located on the same floor as the hall and meeting rooms and is also directly above part of the library. Therefore, we gave careful attention to designing an anti-vibration and sound isolating structural strategy for this room in order to ensure that it can be used simultaneously with the building's other facilities.

Indoor playrooms
Indoor playrooms

I visited Karakida Shobukan in early August, four months after the community center opened and in the middle of the summer school recess season. Many families and children happily and energetically strolled, played in the building's facilities or relaxed in the center's café. Information on the center's Web site indicates that in addition to using the hall for music concerts, the entrance lobby is also being used as a venue for jazz performances. When you read and see the attractive pictures of the jazz concerts and other events showcased on the Web site, you will surely want to come to one of the concerts, even if you don't live nearby. It is wonderful to see this new facility so quickly become a part of the leisure-time lifestyle of the local community. I wish Karakida Shobukan continued success in serving the Tama community for many years to come.

Theatre Consultant Tetsuro Ohmi Speaks at Nagata Acoustics' Office

By Chiaki Ishiwata

Theatre Consultant Tetsuro Ohmi
Mr. Tetsuro Ohmi

At the end of July, Theatre Consultant and A.T. Network Principal Tetsuro Ohmi visited Nagata Acoustics' Tokyo office and spoke to us about his work. We've collaborated with Mr. Ohmi on 10 projects, including Kumagaya Cultural Creativity Pavilion, Kirari Fujimi Culture Hall and Shibuya's Owada Cultural Center and enjoyed this opportunity to meet with him in an informal, non-project setting.

<<A Short Biography of Mr. Ohmi's Professional Life >>

Mr. Ohmi began his career as an architect after finishing Nihon University's Graduate School of Science and Technology. He worked at Satow Takeo Architects (now, AXS Satow Inc.) and then at A&T Architects. After these two stints at architectural firms, he decided to go out on his own and pursue the career of theatre consultant.

Mr. Ohmi says he was motivated by the desire to do work that he can infuse with his own ideas and individual ways of doing things. To this end, he decided not to establish a company and instead has pursued his profession as an independent contractor. This year, he celebrates the 20th anniversary of A.T. Network. His 10 collaborations with Nagata Acoustics and his numerous other successful projects attest to the wisdom of the decision he made two decades ago.

<< Delving into the Details of Planning a Hall's Operations and Opening >>

During this visit, Mr. Ohmi talked mostly about how a new hall sets up its operational organization and processes in parallel with the physical construction of the facility. Mr. Ohmi begins each project by giving the client a written guide that outlines all of the operations-related decisions, activities and tasks that need to be completed.

Mr. Ohmi showed us this guide, which lists each item, such as operational planning, business (revenue or cash flow) planning and hall opening preparations, together with when each item needs to occur and its predecessors and dependencies. In recent years, hall construction schedules have become compressed into shorter durations, making it all the more important that the work to set up the hall's operations be completed in a timely manner. In these circumstances, Mr. Ohmi's guide is especially valuable.

Mr. Ohmi provides his clients extremely detailed and comprehensive advice. He begins by discussing with his client the important decision of whether the hall will be directly managed or whether the management will be entrusted to a "designated manager company" under Japan's "Shitei Kanrisha Seido". Then he helps his client plan the organization of the operational personnel and their responsibilities while keeping in mind the cost of operational overhead and what income will be earned based on setting the rental fees for use of the hall.

Mr. Ohmi also researches comparable ticket prices, helps the client decide how and where tickets are sold and provides materials that explain what information to put on the home page of the new hall's now indispensable Web site. In addition, he explains what is needed to include a "Sanbasou" performance in the hall's inaugural program. "Sanbasou" is a traditional dance done by a costumed and masked dancer. The ceremony was originally performed to express wishes for long life and abundant harvests. This traditional art is often performed during hall inaugural programs to celebrate the opening of auditoriums.

Most clients do not know the origins of "Sanbasou" and the possible variations of this ceremonial performance. Before a hall client can decide whether to have a "Sanbasou" performance, the client needs to know what it is and what it means. Mr. Ohmi educates his clients about "Sanbasou" so that they can make informed decisions to include this as part of their hall inaugurations or not.

<<A Plethora of Novel Ideas for Cautious Hall Clients >>

Once the hall has become operational, it needs to determine how far in advance to accept rental reservations. Many venues allow bookings for dates up to a year in advance. But, says Mr. Ohmi, this policy is not considerate of groups that hold events once a year because these kinds of groups typically want to confirm their reservations more than 12 months in advance. If the hall adopts the slightly more accommodating reservation policy of accepting reservations up to 13 months in advance, the groups can advertise their next year's concert planning to their concert audience.

Listening to Mr. Ohmi talk about his work, I was really impressed at the careful and thorough consideration he gives to any topic that interests him. He does lots of research, puts together a lot of documents and materials for his clients and gives them many creative and innovative suggestions.

Mr. Ohmi says that clients adopt about 10% of the ideas he gives them. Fundamentally, the regional public bodies and associations who are his clients have no prior experience operating a hall, so they proceed with extreme caution, rarely making decisions swiftly, especially if the decision involves innovation.

By contrast, Mr. Ohmi is constantly on the go, not just to the halls and projects that are his clients, but to other halls in the Tokyo area. He attends many concerts and performances of other performing art genres. In March, as soon as gasoline again became available after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Mr. Ohmi drove to the halls that he knows through his work, visiting and checking the situation with his own eyes. When Mr. Ohmi talks about his work and the halls where he's consulted, it's clear that this theatre consultant's feeling for the halls he's helped runs very deep indeed.

Nagata Acoustics Inc.

(Tokyo Office)
Hongo Segawa Bldg. 3F, 2-35-10 Hongo
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
Tel: +81-3-5800-2671, Fax: +81-3-5800-2672

(LA Office)
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 308
Los Angeles, CA 90025, U.S.A.
Tel: +1-310-231-7878, Fax: +1-310-231-7816

(Paris Office)
75, avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris, France
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 21 44 25, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 21 24 00

E-mail: info@nagata.co.jp

[ Japanese Version ]