Brigitte Métra, who worked with Jean Nouvel on the Copenhagen concert hall and Lucerne congress centre, is once again collaborating with the Ateliers Jean Nouvel for the Philharmonie de Paris auditorium.
How was the auditorium’s acoustic criteria developed?
Brigitte Métra: There were four essential requirements: high standards of architectural innovation, excellent acoustics, “enveloping” sound, and flexibility, so that we could have diverse programming. But no particular format was specified. However, Jean Nouvel had had experience with two styles: the “shoebox” model - with the orchestra facing the audience – in Lucerne, and the “vineyard” model – with the audience surrounding the orchestra – in Copenhagen. He was able to use this experience to develop something original.
In what way?
B.M.: By developing the concept of envelopment, both by sound and by light. And by viewing the auditorium as an actual instrument, without neglecting to make it a very beautiful space. With this in mind, we tried to keep only surfaces that were useful - useful for sound and useful to the audience. This means the stage that will hold the orchestra, the benches that will support the seats, the walls and ceiling that will reflect sound. The wall behind the audience was designed to function as a sound box that would promote late sound reflection. Early sound reflection will be enhanced by envelopment and by the reflector cloud located above the audience. With this envelopment concept, we’re neither in the narrowness of the “shoebox”, nor in the terraces of the “vineyard” model.
How were the auditorium’s acoustic specifications determined?
B.M.: Something that really contributed to this project’s success was that right from the start, there was a real connection between Nouvel’s vision and the skills of the two superb acousticians he consulted. Nouvel sought advice from Harold Marshall, who conducts very specialised research and is recognised for his expertise on the proportions between volume and dimension. Marshall had also gotten our attention with an auditorium project in Christchurch, New Zealand where he’d attached floating cloud reflectors to the ceiling. This particularly interested us, as we needed to ensure excellent acoustics no matter how the floor was set up, flexibility being key.
He also consulted Yasuhisa Toyota, who had already worked with him as personal acoustic consultant on the Copenhagen project. He directs Nagata Acoustics in Los Angeles, and his auditoriums are highly appreciated by musicians. Nouvel’s team put recommendations from these two experts together to produce the current project.
Where do the acoustic model tests fit in?
B.M.: To put it simply, Marshall and Toyota both validated the “genes” of the project that we presented for the design competition. Afterwards, major calculations were done in order to adjust the exact angle of certain surfaces. Acoustic testing will now allow us to validate certain choices, and to detect certain phenomena that computer simulations can’t reveal.
How will these tests influence the auditorium’s geometry?
B.M.: It will mostly involve adjusting the angles of certain reflective surfaces, like the reflector clouds or what we call the canopy, to ensure sound return for the musicians.