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Sound Pluralism

Critic: John May
Harvard GSD // M.Arch Core III // Fall 2017


Sound Pluralism

On an air-rights parcel that spans Massachusetts Turnpike, an interstate highway marking the entry to downtown Boston, a mixed-use performance center is home to the Berklee School of Music, the Boston Conservatory, and the Boston Lyric Opera.

A provocation: silence is a commodity. Throughout the history of architectural graphic standards, the meaning of “performance” shifts from a spatial experience to the ability of a material assembly to insulate sound. This kills reverberation, stillness, and the spatio-social diversity of sound that exists in a more urban spectrum. The value of silence should not be a simple equation of STC ratings. As an alternative, the project seeks to achieve a spectrum of interior and exterior acoustic conditions that give the building a varied aural “life” that is better integrated with the urban context.

The acoustic strategy is related to the formal and figural strategy: acoustically demanding “quieter” spaces are encased in the denser, structural precast concrete volumes, while “louder” spaces occupy light atrium volumes. Stitching these two is a gradient of acoustically variable spaces mitigated by a thickened poche.

On either side of the highway, two pillars act as moment frames that support the two bridging volumes, which are occupiable trusses. The two pillars house the public and back of house program, while the two bridging boxes contain the opera auditorium and the small flexible theaters. Between the two boxes is a sky lobby that serves as a public park and outdoor theater. 

Annual solar exposure angles and program privacy inform the louver density pattern on the facade, as well as the alternating rotation of practice rooms and  artist’s residence volumes.

A provocation on sound pluralism. Please turn sound on for the video.

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Thought experiment: 12 superimposed daily trajectories.