Houston Ballet Center for Dance, a striking steel-and-glass architectural edifice designed by the world-renowned Gensler architectural firm opened in 2011 as the largest dance arts facility of its kind in the United States. It is also one of the most technologically advanced, with the entire six-story structure wired into a dedicated digital AV network that connects to more than 20 video screens and 68 Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers spread throughout the building's nine rehearsal studios, 175-seat performance space, lobby areas, and conference rooms.
“It's an absolutely stunning facility in every respect,” observes Bill Schuermann, senior design consultant at HFP Acoustical, the Houston-based firm charged with acoustics, noise control, and AV systems. “That said, the cutting-edge architecture created acoustically difficult spaces which, when combined for the need for absolute sonic clarity, really dictated a complete Meyer Sound solution.”
Particularly challenging were the building's nine rehearsal studios, eight of which span two stories in height, and all of which have at least one glass wall and vast mirrored surfaces on others. Acoustical treatments on remaining surfaces brought reverberation times down to typically around 1.2 seconds, but that still left Schuermann's system designs reliant on exceptional performance by the loudspeakers.
“All the studios have self-powered Meyer Sound UPM-1Ps—from two to six, depending on size—plus an M1D-Sub subwoofer, all plenum mounted in approved back-cans,” he explains. “It was the best solution for the predictable coverage and excellent phase response you need for such a problematic environment. The Meyer Sound systems also deliver uniform tonality regardless of volume, which is critical for dancers who must respond to the music regardless of playback levels.”
Houston Ballet's production manager, Brian Walker, appreciates the heightened sonic quality. “We've been extremely pleased with the Meyer rehearsal systems,” he states. “Now we have a much more even sound throughout the room, along with plenty of bass response—which we really didn't have at all before.”
In the “black box” dance lab performance and rehearsal space, audio system design follows a flexible theatrical template, with yoke-mounted UPQ-1P loudspeakers and an M1D-Sub subwoofer plus UPM-1P loudspeakers for stage playback. “The sound in there is fantastic,” says Walker. “It's a huge improvement over what we had before, and a perfect venue for all our school outreach programs.”
A plenum-mounted system of six UPM-1P loudspeakers and an M1D-Sub subwoofer is specified for the lobby and pre-function area, while the facility's boardroom and two conference rooms are equipped with, respectively, eight- and four-each Meyer Sound http://meyersound.com/products/industrialseries/stella-8c/ ceiling mount installation loudspeakers.
AV control in each room is provided by custom AMX systems with wall-mounted touchscreens and hand-held wireless remotes. A parallel and synchronized Extron Electronics HD-SDI routing system distributes video to the room, with digital video inputs in each studio for connecting a camera to the central video suite. AV installations were contracted to LD Systems of Houston, with project management by Garth Hemphill.
For HFP's Bill Schuermann, Houston Ballet Center for Dance sets the new standard for audio in top-tier dance rehearsal and training facilities around the country—and the world. “It's a decisive test for audio quality, because dancers must hear every subtle cue with absolute clarity, even when traversing rapidly from one end of the room to the other. Linear response and uniformity of coverage are critical, and with the Meyer Sound approach—self-powered systems, MAPP Online Pro® [acoustical prediction program], and calibration with SIM® 3 [audio analyzer]—I know that's what I can deliver, reliably and consistently.”
Completed ahead of schedule and under budget at a cost of $46.6 million, the 115,000 square-foot Center for Dance is connected by a sky bridge to the Wortham Theater Center, the Houston Ballet's performance home. Leading the team of architects at Gensler were Principal Architect Richard Maxwell and Project Architect Terry Newell. Houston Ballet is America's fourth largest ballet company, with an ensemble of 52 dancers and an annual budget of over $19 million.