Philharmonie de Paris acoustics acclaimed by audiences and musicians

Chris Day, of Marshall Day Acoustics, outlines the firm's role in creating a new typology for concert hall design

Story by: Paul Taylor
The design of the Philharmonie de Paris concert architecture, building, fixed link, sky, structure, water, gray
The design of the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall was a rigorous collaboration between architect Jean Nouvel and New Zealands Marshall Day Acoustics.

The Grande Salle of the Philharmonie de Paris opened last year amongst considerable controversy the building was incomplete and the architect refused to attend in protest.

However, following many weeks of 24 hours a day construction, the interior of the Grande Salle was sufficiently complete for the Orchestra de Paris to perform their first official concert.

Following the opening, Tom Service, reporting for The Guardian, wrote:

"But the $390m question is: what does the hall sound like? In short: pretty stunning. I can't remember a new hall sounding this good or this characterful at its opening. There is a combination of dazzling clarity and generous depth in the sound that makes the whole range of orchestral possibility feel like a vivid physical presence."

He's not alone in singing the praises of the acoustics in this striking Jean Nouvel-designed multi-level concert complex, with glowing reports also appearing in the New York Times and in Le Monde.

The project had been eight years in the design and construction phases, and 30 years in the planning. The City of Paris planned this new concert hall to be located on the border between central Paris and the eastern suburbs to bring the music to the people and bring the people to the building'. It's a move that proved to be controversial, as the regular concert-goers from the centre of Paris now have to travel to the symphony rather than just walk.

The original design brief from the client was also courageous; The design must be a new typology it could not be a shoebox, vineyard, fan or arena shaped hall.'


The original design brief for the Philharmonie de architecture, building, elevation, engineering, naval architecture, product design, structure, urban design, white
The original design brief for the Philharmonie de Paris called for a new typology, together with great clarity and high reverberance in the concert hall. This sectional diagram shows architect Jean Nouvel and Marshall Day Acoustics response to that brief.

The 40-page acoustic brief, prepared by Eckhard Kahle and Richard Denayrou, was probably the most comprehensive acoustic brief ever written for a concert hall. The brief required great clarity and high reverberance and specified more than 10 acoustical parameters to be achieved in the room.

In 2006, the brief was published along with a request for expressions of interest. Ninety-eight teams submitted including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel.

Ateliers Jean Nouvel (AJN) was recommended to contact Sir Harold Marshall as Marshall Day Acoustics (MDA) has a reputation for responsible innovation in concert hall design. The association of AJN and MDA proved to be a winner. The team first made the shortlist of six and then went on to win the 10-week long design competition with a radical new design.

The solution to the challenging brief, is a space made up of two nested chambers an inner floating seating area producing visual and acoustical intimacy between audience and performer and an outer space with its own architectural and acoustical presence.

This original design required innovations in architecture, structural engineering, stage design and acoustical engineering.

Jean Nouvel and lead acoustician Sir Harold Marshall conceived the room during a synergetic design workshop that saw the architect, theatre consultant and acoustician working in a highly collaborative environment. This meeting of minds an MDA speciality achieved a result that would not have been possible with an autocratic or formulaic approach to the design.

The photo below shows the floating inner seating planes and the clouds (nuages) that weave their way through the upper space to provide lateral reflections to all the upper seating. Supplementary reflections are provided by ribbons at the rear of some seating areas and by side walls around the stalls.

The auditorium at the Philharmonie de Paris was architecture, auditorium, ceiling, light, lighting, performing arts center, theatre, tourist attraction, yellow, brown
The auditorium at the Philharmonie de Paris was developed as two nested chambers. Floating inner seating planes and cloud-like structures suspended above provide lateral reflections to all the upper seating.Photograph © N Borel

Though this is a large-capacity hall, with 2400 seats, the auditorium in the Philharmonie de Paris feels remarkably intimate. This is due to the significant lateral sound energy and the physical proximity of the floating surround seating the distance from conductor to the farthest listener is only 32 metres.

The overall result at this early stage, appears to be an outstanding acoustical success for both listeners and the musicians.

Here's what the conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, Paavo Jarvi, said in an interview following the first concert. "For me the most important thing is the acoustics, it's the sound of the hall. Let me be the first to report to you, it is a huge success."

And then later on Facebook "The acoustics are fantastic!"

The Philharmonie de Paris sets a new paradigm for acoustical design. It is 70% larger in volume than a typical concert hall for 2400 and achieves remarkable clarity and intimacy in a warm reverberant environment.

May 10, 2016
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