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Case study: the Sage Gateshead

Arup Acoustics' work on the main spaces of Foster and Partners' new Sage Gateshead music centre has produced two very different halls, varying in both sound and style

The undulating blob of the Sage Gateshead reflects the first stage of its acoustic design.

It is a roof sheltering three main performance/rehearsal buildings that are largely physically separate below, and thus acoustically isolated.

It would be an easy mistake to read the two main spaces - Halls 1 and 2 - simply as homes for the two main occupier-organisations Northern Sinfonia and Folkworks.

Hall 1 (pictured right) is a classic orchestral 1,700-seat shoebox. Hall 2 is a 400-seat, inthe-round (in fact, 10-sided) space with shallow rings of seats at ground level and on two balconies, the central floor clear, where seats, and tables, or performers can be installed. With dark wood and red fabrics, plus a licence for drinks, it is quite club-like.

But in practice both halls will be used flexibly; there could be a rock concert in Hall 1, or a string quartet in Hall 2.

For Hall 1, an arc-plan concert platform at one end faces stalls and a deep balcony at the other end, curving towards each other, helping to draw the eye away from the strict rectilinearity of the space. To help control the development of sound reflections, solid walls are waved gently in plan and covered with vertical timber strips.

For the same reasons the side balconies are very shallow - the lower one two rows of seats deep, the upper balcony just one.

The price is somewhat restricted sightlines from these seats, with scarily low balcony fronts, and a generally acoustics-driven feel to the hall.

To modify its acoustics, the floating ceiling panels can be raised and grey motorised curtains can be drawn round the whole space in front of the timber, one floor at a time depending on the 'liveness' of the acoustic sought.

In Hall 2, acoustic modification is provided by selectively lowering fabric panels in front of every other of the 10 walls. Test concerts suggest Hall 1 will have world-class acoustics. Hall 2, no slouch itself, wins on atmosphere.

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