Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS

News 13-06 (No.306)

Issued : June 25, 2013

[ Japanese Version ]

The Rebirth of Tokyo's Kabuki-za Theatre

By Toshiko Fukuchi

5th Kabuki-za Theatre exterior with the Kabuki-za Tower building behind it
5th Kabuki-za Theatre exterior
with the Kabuki-za Tower building behind it

Nearly three years after the April 30, 2010 official closing of Tokyo's famed 4th Kabuki-za Theatre, the theatre has returned to its exact same location in the Higashi-Ginza section of the city. On April 2, 2013, the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre to be built in this location celebrated its gala re-birth with parades, performances and accolades.

A joint venture of Mitsubishi Jisho Sekkei and Kengo Kuma and Associates provided the architectural expertise for the Kabuki-za reconstruction project. Shimizu Corporation served as the general contractor and Nagata Acoustics participated on the project as the acoustical consultant. We joined the project at the design phase and provided comprehensive acoustical services throughout the project until its completion.

The 5th Kabuki-za Theatre project not only rebuilt the theatre, but also added the 29-story Kabuki-za Tower on the same site. The tower that rises above and behind the new Kabuki-za Theatre changes the theatre's surrounding landscape. By contrast, the exterior and interior of the theatre reflect the project's overarching goal of building a new theatre that from the perspective of Kabuki patrons has the same "look and feel" as the previous Kabuki-za Theatre. Of course, the project did identify and implement some exceptions to the goal of unchanging fidelity to the old theatre. In particular, the old theatre had some seats from which it was notoriously difficult to see the stage. Also, the seats and their rows were too narrow by current standards. The new theatre remedies these defects. Sight lines were improved by increasing the slope of the audience seating area floor and the comfortableness of the seats was improved by increasing both the width of each seat and making each row slightly wider.

Some aspects of the stage mechanisms and lighting system also received improvements as part of the reconstruction project. The dimensions of the revolving stage remain the same as before, but in addition to the traditional three platforms with risers known as "sho, chiku, bai", a new "large" riser has been added. Similarly, in addition to the traditional "naraku" pit below the main portion of the stage, a new, large sub-stage area was created. These changes make it possible to accomplish scene transitions more smoothly than in the old theatre. To improve the stage lighting, the project added a ceiling spotlight lighting control booth, taking care to do so in a way that preserves the look of the old theatre's ceiling.

<< Room Acoustical Design: How We Recreated the Acoustics of the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre >>

Interior of the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre(1)
Interior of the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre(2)
Interior of the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre
(by courtesy of Shochiku)

Sound reflection panels set into the “fukiyose saobuchi” ceiling
Sound reflection panels set into
the “fukiyose saobuchi” ceiling
(by courtesy of Shochiku)

The previous Kabuki-za Theatre had a reputation for excellent acoustics because patrons seated in even the farthest third floor seats could hear the actors' voices and the traditional "narimono" instruments' sounds reached every audience ear with pristine fidelity. As with the interior and exterior architectural design, the first requirement of our acoustical room design of the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre was to inherit these admirable qualities of the old hall.

The footprints of the 4th and 5th Kabuki-za Theatres are almost identical. However, as I mentioned above, a comparison of cross-sectional views would show that in the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre we increased the slope of the audience seating area's floor to improve sight lines, and we made a corresponding change to the slope of the ceiling. Changing the slope of a room's ceiling affects how sound reflections from the ceiling reach various parts of the room. Because of our desire to preserve the acoustics of the previous Kabuki-za Theatre, during the design phase of the project we used computer simulations to help us determine the best slope for the theatre's ceiling.

Eventually, we arrived at a ceiling design that both preserves the integrity of the traditional "saobuchi" board and batten ceiling and improves the room's acoustics. Our design implemented the addition of sound reflection panels at the curved portion of the ceiling. For each section of saobuchi ceiling, we installed 6 panels, with each panel set at one of 4 specific angles. We determined the number of panels and their angles using computer simulations and, during the construction phase, we validated our design by testing in a 1/10 scale model. If the specification only needed to satisfy our acoustical requirements, these two steps would have sufficed. However, the curved sound reflection panels needed to blend seamlessly and unobtrusively with the flat sections of the ceiling. To achieve the most precise level of perfection we held multiple meetings on site with the architect and the contractor until we agreed on the exact shapes and fabrication methods to use. Thanks to this intensive collaboration, the sound reflection panels blend beautifully with the theatre's traditional ceiling.

“narihira” wall
“narihira” wall

In the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre, the side walls of the audience seating area were covered with a thick, textured paper material embossed with a complex diamond pattern called "narihira" lattice. This material's embossed pattern gave it an abundantly uneven surface. For the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre, we wanted a material that would have the same sound absorbing properties as the diamond patterned paper of the previous theatre and that also could be produced to reliable standards and tolerances, as well as acceptable from the perspective of current construction and building code requirements. To meet these criteria, we decided to use structural lightweight cement (SLC) panels.

The kind of framing substructure used and method of attaching the structural lightweight cement panels affects the sound-absorbing properties of the panels. To help us choose the best construction method for our acoustical goals we measured the sound absorption properties of various materials and methods in a lab setting and decided to attach a layer of 12.5 mm.-thick gypsum board to light gage steel framing and attach the SLC panels to the gypsum board. We obtained surface textural variations of 5 mm. depth on the side walls, making them effective surfaces for the dispersion of sound. As with the ceiling's sound reflection panels, by holding numerous on-site meetings with the architect and the general contractor to discuss the walls' textural variations, including how to best finish the edges of the 5 mm. protrusions, the project team achieved the desired implementation.

At stage right on the Kabuki-za Theatre stage, musicians sit hidden from sight in a wooden enclosure known as the "kuromisu". The musicians inside the kuromisu sing and play their instruments to enhance specific moments of the main performance and provide some sound effects. In the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre, the sound from inside the kuromisu could be clearly heard throughout the audience seating area. To recreate this aspect of the acoustics in our design of the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre we decided to use the same construction method used for the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre's kuromisu. We re-used some of the wood planks and we spaced the planks with the same very slim gaps (about the thickness of a paper business card) that characterized the previous kuromisu.

<< Sound Isolation Design: How We Achieved Quietness in the Theatre >>

The Kabuki-za Theatre faces onto two busy city thoroughfares: Harumi-dori to the south and Showa-dori to the west. The Hibiya Subway Line and Asakusa Subway Line run directly below these two broad streets. Before the demolition of the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre, our acoustical survey of that structure revealed that some solid borne noise could be heard from the passing of subway trains underground. Therefore, for the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre's sound isolation design we implemented the following three design three elements, among others:

  1. At the below grade portions of the exterior walls we installed 50 mm. anti-vibration mats.
  2. Under the stage floor and the audience seating first floor we installed anti-vibration resilient material.
  3. We specified anti-vibration and sound isolating materials for the walls around the stage and also the side walls of the audience seating area.

To ensure that our decisions would not have a negative effect on performances, we gave particular care and attention to the anti-vibration materials and methods we specified for the stage floor and we evaluated each choice so that we faithfully recreated the same underfoot sensation and floor softness of the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre's stage floor.

New to the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre are several windows for people outside the theatre to peer into the theatre and hopefully become inspired to greater interest in this traditional Japanese performing art genre. Also, on the floor directly above the stage, the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre has a gallery devoted to Kabuki-related themes and the flat-floored Kobikicho Hall for lectures and gatherings. Directly above the theatre's audience seating area is a new rooftop garden. Below the theatre there is the underground mall, Kobikicho Plaza, as well as pedestrian passageways to the Higashi-Ginza Station of the Hibiya Subway Line. In addition, the Kabuki-za Tower hi-rise office building is partially built directly above the theatre's stage and the ramps for the tower's large underground parking garage wrap around the below grade portion of the theatre's structure.

The various new rooms and facilities in close proximity to the theatre required us to carefully design means to prevent the transfer of noise and vibration into the hall from these spaces. To isolate the theatre from the sound of foot traffic in the rooftop garden and the Kabuki-za Gallery we adopted floating floor structural designs for both of these spaces. We also adopted floating floor structural designs for the parking garage and its ramps. And in Kobikicho Hall, we adopted an anti-vibration and sound isolating structural design.

The doors of the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre did not close with complete precision and, as a result, some noise from nearby streets leaked into the theatre. Some sound from the busy nearby streets also penetrated through small gaps in the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre's structure above the ceiling. The previous theatre's success was not affected by these sound isolation imperfections, but we nevertheless aimed to correct these conditions in the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre. In particular, we installed double doors at the main entrance and the overall structure is free of gaps that would negatively affect sound isolation in the theatre.

<< A Blend of Old and New Designs, Materials and Methods >>

From the visual perspective, this project recreated the exterior architectural design and colors that match the previous 4th Kabuki-za Theatre, including retaining the same roof shape and using the same traditional Kawara tiles. The carpet of the main room is also a newly woven version of the previous theatre's carpet. The project's goal of incorporating designs and materials used more than 60 years ago with current materials and designs created a number of challenges. For example, the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre was a concrete structure while the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre has a steel structure. While the exterior and interior of the new theatre looks unchanged to the casual observer, many of the construction materials and methods used for the new theatre were completely different than those used for the 4th Kabuki-za Theatre.

Likewise, for elements that affect the room acoustics, things may look and sound the same in the new theatre, but much has changed. The shape of the audience seats and the upholstery material are new. The basic dimensions of the stage and "hanamichi" walkway remain unchanged, but the stage wings are wider and the "naraku" pit deeper. Despite the many changes, both actors and audience patrons happily report that they find the new theatre a nostalgic twin of the theatre it replaced. We've also heard these "same as before" accolades about the 5th Kabuki-za Theatre's acoustics. As a participant on the project, I'm very pleased that we achieved this project's unique goals.

The Kabuki-za Theatre website is available in English.

HAEV-The Herb Alpert Educational Village-Opens at New Roads School in Santa Monica, CA

By Motoo Komoda

Hall interior seen from the mezzanine
Hall interior seen from the mezzanine
Hall interior seen from first floor audience seating at stage left
Hall interior seen from
first floor audience seating at stage left

New Roads School is an independent K-12 school located on four campuses in Santa Monica, California. Founded in 1995, the school prides itself on having a diverse student population. A majority of its students receive financial aid and over 50% of the student community consists of people of color, making it a unique alternative to public school education for many of its students.

The recent opening of the Herb Alpert Educational Village (HAEV) on the Santa Monica campus of New Roads School gives the school, its New Visions Foundation and other local educational and arts non-profits a wonderful new facility for their performing arts activities. John Berry Architects designed the building and Nagata Acoustics served as the project's acoustical consultant, providing room acoustical design, sound isolation and noise mitigation design and construction administration services focused primarily on the new hall. The HAEV project was built with a total budget of $24 million.

Musician Herb Alpert donated a large portion of the funds for this project. Mr. Alpert, who is famous as a trumpet player and music producer, is also well known as a passionate philanthropist of arts and educational causes. In Japan, his recording of "Bittersweet Samba" is an easily recognized tune across multiple generations because it has been used as the theme song of a popular late night radio program.

Hall mezzanine seating area plan view
Hall mezzanine seating area plan view

Hall first floor seating area plan view
Hall first floor seating area plan view

Hall longitudinal-sectional view
Hall longitudinal-sectional view

In addition to having a 344-seat multipurpose hall and related support rooms, the HAEV building has a conference space, library and a 200 sq. m. (2,000 sq. ft) community center equipped with a professional catering kitchen. The multipurpose hall, named the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, has a mezzanine level and both a proscenium opening and a thrust stage. The audience seating area has a generous width for the theater's size and comparatively short depth, so that all seats-including those on the mezzanine-offer excellent sight lines to the stage.

From the outset, we designed this theater-style hall with functionality that enables it to be used for classical music performances as well as for drama performances. Our room acoustical design fully accommodates classical music concert performances as large as chamber music configurations. We accomplished this by installing a large, vertically sliding door at the proscenium opening. When the door is descended, the thrust portion of the stage and audience seating become a compact and unified space appropriate for classical music performances.

We maximized the height of the hall's ceiling, obtaining a distance of 11 m. (36 ft) from the stage floor. In addition, to promote sound diffusion of high octaves, we specified several elements that create fine variations along the surfaces of the audience seating area's side walls.

Below the acoustically important hard surface of the ceiling, we suspended an acoustically transparent grid where stage technicians can walk with ease and we placed batons with sound absorbing curtains. The amount of suspended curtain material can be readily adjusted to suit the needs of different performances. This easy-to-use mechanism provides excellent flexibility for adjusting the liveliness of the hall.

On March 24, 2013, Herb Alpert performed the Opening Gala in the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater. All of the project's sponsors and participants, as well as other patrons, enjoyed the wonderful music and festive occasion. With the end of the school year approaching, the hall remains mostly quiet at present, but I expect it to quickly become a favorite venue for many educational uses and a beloved stage for local performing arts events. HAEV's location is just a few minutes' drive from Nagata Acoustics' Los Angeles office and I look forward to watching this new hall become an important part of the Santa Monica performing arts scene.

New Roads School has a web page about the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater with links to a seating chart and facility use charges.

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 ]