The Cole Jarman team recently visited the Konzerthaus Berlin to experience a musical performance in a classic “Shoebox” style concert hall. The performances certainly sounded incredible and being acoustic consultants, the venue became quite the talking point. The following article provides a little background information about the Konzerthaus and helps to explain why it sounds as good as it does.
The Konzerthaus Berlin
The Konzerthaus Berlin, originally know as the Königliches Schauspielhaus, was first constructed between 1818 and 1821 and was one of the main works by Architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. In 1943 during the Second World War, a bomb fell on the building which destroyed the concert hall. A fire in the later days of the War also caused significant damage to the rest of the structure.
Rebuilding of the concert hall commenced in 1977 and the building finally opened with it’s first performance since reconstruction in 1984. Although the exterior of the building was reconstructed and repaired to Schinkel’s original design, the interior was a completely new design which reflects the building’s original character. The concert hall was finally renamed Konzerthaus Berlin in 1992.
Concert Hall Design
The Konzerthaus Berlin is based around the classic “Shoebox” design. This type of hall is long, tall and narrow. Over centuries of development through trial and error, this shape was established to be excellent for concert halls due to the the beneficial side reflections that occur as a result of this geometry (this would not have been known at the time however).
With the advent of modern acoustic science, more elaborate designs have come into being which may offer more of the audience a better view, or meet the aesthetic requirements of the client without overly taking away from the acoustic quality of the space. It is for this reason that the Shoebox style is becoming less prevalent. This being said, the design is utilised in what are recognised as some of the best concert halls in the world.
As noted previously, a Shoebox style concert hall lends itself to good acoustics due to the high number of lateral early reflections off of the side walls of the room.
When listening to a concert in such a space, sound from an orchestra will first pass directly from the stage to the listener. This localises the sound within the space. Shortly after the direct sound reaches the listener, indirect reflections from the side walls also reach this position, directly into the ears on each side of the head. It is this which produces the sensation of being enveloped by the sound, which is desirable to the human ear. In fan shaped or vineyard shaped concert halls, the sound is not reflected so strongly from the side walls and therefore this effect of lateral reflections is less strong.
This room shape will also produce little in the way of undesirable focusing effects which may be experienced in halls with circular or elliptical geometry.
A Shoebox concert hall will normally be no narrower than around 15 metres and no wider than around 25 metres. Rooms outside of these dimensions will respectively either produce early reflections which are too strong and mask the direct sound or too “muddled” which will spoil the clarity of the music.
In addition to the natural acoustics provided by the room geometry, The Konzerthaus Berlin uses subtle transparent sound reflectors located on either side of the stage to ensure the performing musicians can hear themselves adequately and also a number of circular reflectors directly above the stage. It is expected that these reflectors are intended to reduce the effect of reflections from the ceiling surface which may be undesirable to the performing musicians.
In addition to the already excellent acoustics, The Konzerthaus Berlin utilises a steerable column array speaker system to produce sound reinforcement when required. The output from the system can be customised for a range of applications and using beam forming technology, allows the venue to position the effects of the sound reinforcement as required within the space, without moving the speaker system.
The Konzerthaus Berlin has a capacity of 1,418 people which means that significant airflow is required ventilate to the room when full. To achieve the required airflow volumes without introducing noisy traditional ventilations systems, which would negatively impact the space as a listening environment, a displacement ventilation system has been utilised.
Air is supplied to the room through vents set into the floor of the concert hall and extracted at ceiling level. The vents are designed to be an aesthetic feature of the floor and the with the system running, it is imperceptible in terms of noise.
The acoustics of concert halls is a fascinating subject in which numerous pieces of research have been conducted. If you would like to find out more, please see the links below for a number of useful sources of information:
- Leo Beranek – Concert Hall Design
- Leo Beranek – Eighty Eight Halls
- Marshall Long Acoustics – What Is So Special About Shoebox Halls?
- Theatre Projects Consultants – Types and Forms of Theatres
- Meyer Sound – Konzerthaus Berlin