Philly Flash


Architect Rafael Viñoly certainly made his mark on the City of Brotherly Love when the benchmark Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts opened in December 2001 on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts (AKA South Broad Street). This $265-million Regional Performing Arts Center (RPAC) project sits on an entire city block, a 2.3-acre lot at Broad and Spruce, and includes two major venues: Verizon Hall, the 2,500-seat home for the 100-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra, and the 650-seat Perelman Theatre.

Kimmel Center photo: Rafael Viñoly

In Viñoly's unusual design concept, each venue is a separate entity, or cube (warm wood for Verizon Hall; metallic for the Perelman) linked by the indoor Commonwealth plaza, a public space covered with a soaring 150'-high glass vault. The complex, which also includes a cafe, a flexible black box rehearsal/performance space, a gift shop, and offices, adds an important new arts center to the city's cultural richness and an important element to its architectural wealth.

Principal consultants for the project include acoustician Russell Johnson of New York's Artec Consultants, who designed the acoustics for both venues, while Tom Clark of Artec designed the sound and communications systems. Richard Pilbrow and David I. Taylor of Theatre Projects Consultants in Norwalk, CT, served as principal theatre consultants.

Verizon Hall

A beautiful room clad in warm mahogany, Verizon Hall is based on traditional shoebox-shaped concert halls, yet elongated with round curves (the shape has been likened to the inside of a cello). “To create an intimate concert hall, we worked to ensure that the room was very tightly designed to make the smallest possible high-quality listening room for active participation in orchestral music,” explains Taylor. “The flexible volume per seat is not visually apparent to the audience despite the massive adjustable acoustic elements, which were designed to meet Russell Johnson's very precise specifications.”

To combat outside noise and vibrations from the nearby subway, as well as air-conditioning units, an acoustic joint runs around the stage. The area inside the joint is actually floating on rubber pads.

“Flexibility, versatility, and adjustability are the key words,” says Johnson about Verizon Hall. “These elements are at the heart of Artec's recipe for good acoustics.” This is especially true here, for a room that will be used for a wide range of musical formats and can be tailored specifically for each.

Along the auditorium walls are 100 digitally adjustable computer-controlled reverb chamber doors, built by Hoffend & Sons of Victor, NY. The hinged doors have steel frames covered with a substrate of plywood and heavy drywall (to give them mass) under a layer of random strips of “bumpy” mahogany.

“These couple and uncouple the auditorium with vast reverberation chambers [71' high by 16' deep] that surround the audience seating on all levels of the hall. The chamber extends the reverberation time and ‘scale’ of the orchestral sound when appropriate,” says Taylor, pointing out that the doors vary in height from 8' to approximately 18'.

Over the stage platform is a 25-ton, computer-controlled acoustical canopy that dramatically alters the acoustic performance of the orchestra platform. This canopy, designed by Theatre Projects and built by Hoffend & Sons in three sections, weighs over 25 tons and moves up and down more than 60' vertically. The design is based on the scoreboard-hoist system that Hoffend installs in many major sports arenas.

“The canopy provides a computer-generated curved profile to the orchestra and audience that reflects and disperses the instrument sounds. This ensures a rich sound in the auditorium and increases intelligibility between players,” Taylor adds. A two-man access lift (also by Hoffend) drops from the attic floor onto the middle canopy.

The canopy sections have “walking” surfaces for maintenance, and catwalks for lighting and sound positions. A permanent rig of 192 ETC Source Four PARs for concert lighting is housed here, while additional hanging positions are available for production lighting. A roomy followspot booth, located adjacent to the technical attic, houses three Lycian 2kW 1290XLT followspots (there is actually space for four or five units).

In addition to the sophisticated canopy, there are also a series of black velour acoustic draperies, or banners, with an acoustic seal at the bottom, provided by Hoffend. These “live” on 4'-diameter drums, or rollers, in the tech attic, and deploy or retract to help adjust the acoustics as desired. “Inside the reverb chamber there are two rows of draperies, with five drums on each side,” says Peter Hoffend of Hoffend & Sons, which will be adding another series of acoustic draperies that can be pulled.

Hoffend's MiComm control system for the doors, the draperies, and the canopy features a graphic interface that indicates exactly where each item is at all times, as well as the degree that each door is open. “It all comes together in the control system,” says Hoffend. “Under that umbrella is the control for the canopy, canopy banner curtains, the cyc, 16 portable point hoists, the bomb-bay doors for the speaker cluster, the reverb doors, and the acoustic banners.” The 16-point hoists can be used with lines that drop through built-in rigging sleeves. “This makes the room very flexible in terms of rigging,” Hoffend adds.

An array of fast-moving stage elevators by Gala Theatrical Equipment in Montreal gives Verizon Hall a very versatile performance platform. At the rear of the stage, three seating areas rise from garages beneath the platform when needed for choral works. They merge with the fixed seating behind the platform, adding more than 100 seats for large choral works. When not deployed, the three lifts, carried on self-erecting Spiralift® columns by Gala, provide a wood-covered concrete stage floor.

Kimmel Center photo: Rafael Viñoly

The rear-stage seats are also used for audience seating and referred to as the “conductor's circle.” This works well for orchestra concerts where the seats face the conductor, but are a little more problematic for acts such as Bill Cosby. “Artists are not used to this seating approach. Looking at the back of an artist is a new idea,” says Dan Duro, director of operations for the Kimmel.

“The front of the stage is equally flexible, with a large apron lift that adds 10' to the stage depth,” says Taylor, who points out that this lift area can be used as an orchestra pit, a seating area (with seats on wagons rolling on from a garage beneath the auditorium floor), or large stage extension. In addition, a half extension is provided to offer 3' of extra elbow room for the largest orchestras (the stage measures 90' across wall to wall by 45' deep at the center line and holds up to 110 musicians sitting on chairs by Wenger), while retaining as high a seat count as possible in the auditorium.

An unusual feature within the acoustic canopy design are two large rear-projection screens by Stewart Filmscreen Corporation (10' × 13'-4", gray polyvinyl) that lower into place for image enhancement (video or slides) for a range of performances on the platform, including pure orchestral events where live closeups of the orchestra performers and the instruments and the maestro are projected for the audience. Niches, or projection ports, for projectors or cameras are provided behind the chorus seating and aligned with these screens.

A front projection room is located on the centerline on the first tier of orchestra seating, with a distance of 106' from the glass of the projection screen to the downstage lip of the stage on centerline. A front projection screen (6' × 12' white polyvinyl) can be suspended by point hoists. The hall does not own any projection equipment.

The room also features stage side walls, which while solid and reflective for sound reasons, can slide back for non-orchestral events and offer high, side wing space for dance, opera, or broadcast use without obstructions. The stage floor is made from mahogany-stained tongue-and-groove beech.

Verizon Hall's flexible sound control cockpit lift and wagon system are also by Hoffend. “The concert hall orchestra seating has a fast-moving elevator located in the center where comfortable audience seating can be swiftly converted to a reinforced sound mixing location using RPAC house equipment, or incoming touring equipment,” says Taylor. “Low profile wagons, on discrete guide tracks in a garage and mixing area beneath the orchestra seating area, can be pushed into position on the lift and then quickly deployed up into the in-house position.”

Theatre Projects also designed an ethernet control backbone to run to all lighting locations in the concert hall. This system allows for flexibility as well as central control of all lighting and effects equipment for orchestral, broadcast, and other events. “Nodes can be placed at any E-Net receptacle to give a control location, effects feedback, and additional dimming capacity, as well as information relays from the lighting control computers elsewhere in the facility,” says Taylor.

Verizon Hall image courtesy Theatre Projects Consultants

There is also a computer-based control system that enables digitally secure master stations to instantly switch the stage to a performance, work, rehearsal, or night lighting state. “As well as changing the lighting from bright white efficient work light for technical work to discreet low-level blue light for running performances and rehearsals, the system intelligently locks out hundreds of local switches to ensure against accidental switching of lighting during performances,” Taylor explains. Once the public has left the auditorium, the system can set back and enable the local switches and controllers once again.

Theatre Projects has also equipped Verizon Hall with a range of goodies to increase its flexibility and operability, including: a Windows-based multi-function graphic control system (for all acoustical and staging elements) that remembers “looks” for different musical pieces and provides feedback about their current and imminent positioning; a unified emergency stop system that makes moving systems safe; a large technical attic with a deployable winch system to support show rigging in multiple formats; links from the canopy controller to a massive sound reinforcement cluster to ensure safe operation at all times; power supplies onstage and backstage support all incoming production needs; cable corridors and cable passes link the platform with broadcast trucks and suites inside and outside the building.

Back inside Verizon Hall, the warm wood of the walls and seat backs is complemented by rich red mohair upholstery (the shades of red vary from a brighter Chinese red to a deeper burgundy on some of the loose chairs in the boxes). The seats are by Irwin Seating. A custom-designed air control system provides air conditioning or heat, as required, via the pedestals under the seats. The 2,500-seat breakdown includes 1,055 in the orchestra, 564 in tier one, 40 in tier two, and 470 in tier three.

The Strand Lighting 550 control console (with full tracking backup, 1,536-channel capacity, and handheld remote-focus unit) can be used from numerous locations including downstage right, the lighting control booth at the back of the orchestra level, and from the sound cockpit lift.

Strand CD-80SV dimmers include five-hundred 2.4kW high-rise time performance dimmers (72 dedicated to concert lighting), twenty-four 6.0kW high-rise time performance dimmers, and 96 house light dimmers. The luminaire inventory includes over 100 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and 36 Source Four PARs (in addition to the 192 units in the acoustic canopy).

The audio package in Verizon Hall includes a Soundcraft Series 4-40 house mixing console with a Mackie 1642-VLZ PRO backstage auxiliary console. Playback is provided by one Denon DN-T620 CD/cassette player, one Tascam DA302 dual DAT recorder, and one HHB CRD850 compact disk recorder. Processing gear includes one Aphex 120A Compellor dual compressor, four dbx 1066 dual compressor/limiters, one TC Electronics M3000 digital reverb unit, one Yamaha SPX-990 digital reverb/effects unit, and two Klark Teknik DN-360 Dual ⅓-Octave Graphic EQs.

Amplifiers range from three d&b EPAC amps (concealed apron/forestage fill) and eight Crest CKS 400s (recessed under-balcony/boxes) to four Crest CKS 1200-2s (patchable stage monitor/effects loudspeaker). Processing includes six XTA DP-226 2 × 6 digital units and one XTA DP-224 2 × 4 digital unit.

Loudspeakers include a flown primary array (includes chorus seating and near side box fill) with seven Meyer MSL-4, two Meyer CQ-1, and four Meyer UPA-1P speakers, with 14 d&b audiotechnik E3 speakers for concealed apron/forestage fill, 76 EAW L8CX2XO speakers for recessed under-balcony/box coverage, and two Meyer PSW-6 portable subwoofers, plus two Meyer PSM2s, two Meyer UM-1Ps, and four EVI Sx80 portable stage monitor/effects.

The microphone inventory, which is common stock for Verizon Hall and the Perelman Theatre, includes: four AKG C3000Bs with H100 shockmounts; four AKG C414B/ULS; two Beyer M88TGs; six Countryman B3 lav/voc minicondensers; five Crown PCC160s; one Earthworks M30 black matched pair cherry box; four Neuman SKM184Nis and four TLM103s; three Sennheiser E609s; two Sennheiser MD421 IIs with extra clip; two Shure 565SD-LCs; four Shure B98D minicondenser kits; eight Shure Beta 58s; one Shure FP22 portable HP amp; eight Shure SM57s; six Shure SM-81s; five Shure U2/Beta 58s; four Shure WI84As; and three AT Pro49Qs.

Fifty-six channels of an active microphone level splitter (XTA DS800) allow a signal from any mic level jack to be sent to the sound cockpit, the recording control booth, the loading dock, and either stage right or stage left. A Neutrik NL-4 speaker patchbay is located in the amplifier room on the fifth floor, with all speaker level distribution via Neutrik NL-4 connectors. A four-channel Clear-Com communications system is available in Verizon Hall, where there is also a Sennheiser hearing assistance system.

“Verizon Hall represents Russell Johnson's move toward even more flexible acoustics,” notes Pilbrow. “This hall has the capacity of staging lots of other things without compromising the acoustics. There is still some tweaking to do, but I am sure it will prove to be one of the world's greatest concert halls.”

The Perelman Theatre

The 650-seat Perelman Theatre is a very intimate theatre with incredible flexibility. The space was designed by Theatre Projects Consultants for music recitals, theatre, dance, or multimedia events. “To achieve this flexibility, unique arrangements of custom theatre equipment provide a safe and efficient means of changing the fundamental shape of the theatre,” Taylor explains.

One of the elements that allows this flexibility is something called EOR (for end-of-room, and pronounced “Eeyore”), a solid, three-story building end sitting on a revolving drum 74' in diameter. This walkable recital environment embraces the music performance platform, allowing for chorus members or audience to surround the chamber groups or small orchestras. Computer-controlled actuator arms raise and lower walkways that join the EOR to the concrete floors at each level along the sides of the theatre auditorium.

At the push of a button the EOR, on its revolving turntable, swings through 180° (after raising its walkways) and settles into a garage upstage of the main stage house, opening the end of the recital-mode theatre into a fully operational stage house, with a 40' stage depth. The stage has a turntable with a 37'-radius revolve, as well as a sprung dance floor measuring 83' wide. The grid sits 74'-6" above the stage.

The revolving EOR swings beneath the counterweight stage flying battens (with 50 single-purchase linesets; each 57' wide with the possibility for a 4'-8" extension on either end) designed by Theatre Projects Consultants and built and installed by J. R. Clancy in Syracuse, NY. The stage house is high enough to allow scenery to remain suspended when the EOR is in place. Side lighting towers for dance lighting fly up out of the way of the EOR as it rotates, supporting a fast changeover between dance and recital.

An orchestra pit containing a Gala Spiralift can be used at a variety of levels or as an extension of the auditorium seating area, adding a few rows at the front of the orchestra. Special interlocks ensure that the moving floor can be operated and deployed safely. In fact, the entire orchestra-level seating area can be swiftly changed from raked seating to flat floor in a matter of minutes. “After the auditorium is safely empty,” says Taylor, “the seating and floor drop to a garage level 17' below the auditorium where the seating on a wagon slips away into storage, revealing a floor that can be a dance floor, a place for community events or banquets, or a basis for a further flexible performance spaces such as arena, transverse, or promenade.”

From secret pockets adjacent to the stage proscenium, full-height lighting trusses are deployed for boom positions. “These are invisible in recital mode but slide along ceiling tracks when needed for dance and drama,” notes Taylor. The lighting system includes a Strand 550 console with full tracking backup (1,536-channel capacity) and Strand CD80 SV dimmers with four-hundred-fifteen 2.4kW high rise time performance dimmers (38 dedicated to concert lighting), twenty-four 6.0kW high rise time performance dimmers, and 48 house light dimmers.

The basic concert lighting package consists of ETC Source Four PAR downlights mounted in the EOR, ETC Source Four PARs hung on the catwalk, 16 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals on the second balcony rail (eight each side), and seven ETC Source Four ellipsoidal frontlights hung in each of the catwalks. There are also PAR-30 downlights under the balcony of the EOR. Additional lighting inventory, including two Lycian SuperArc Long Throw 400w HMI followspots, is available for theatre and dance productions.

Sound in the Perelman was also designed to match the flexibility of the space, with a Soundcraft Series 4 32+4 channel console available for use, as well as one Denon DN-C680 CD player, one Tascam DA302 Dual DAT recorder, and two Denon DN-M1050R minidisk recorders for playback, with one Aphex 120A Compellor dual compressor, four dbx 1066 dual compressor/limiters, two Drawmer DS404 Quad/noise gate units, one TC Electronics M3000 digital reverb box, one Yamaha SPX-990 digital reverb/effects unit, and Klark Teknik DN-360 dual ⅓-octave graphic EQ for processing.

Loudspeakers in the flown primary arrays include nine Meyer UPA-1P units (three right, three left, three center). There are also 15 Jason Sound P80 (dual 5" + 110° × 40° HF) units for concealed apron/forestage fill, 36 EAW L8CX2XO units for recessed under-balcony/box areas, two Meyer 650-P portable subwoofers, two Meyer PSM2 speakers, four Meyer UM-1P speakers, and eight EAW MK8196 speakers for portable stage monitors and effects.

Amplifiers range from three Crest CKS 800 amps for concealed apron/forestage fill and four Crest CKS 400 amps for recessed under-balcony/box areas to four Crest CKS 1200-2 units for the patchable stage monitors and effects. The end result is ultimate coverage for any configuration of the space.

“The Philadelphia Orchestra and the other wonderful constituents who make up the family at the Kimmel Center have considerable histories and futuristic vision for how their companies will address the arts in the 21st century,” concludes Taylor. With its state-of-the-art equipment and sophisticated theatre design provided by Theatre Projects and Artec, not to mention Russell Johnson's acoustic achievement, and the overall impact of the architecture, the Kimmel Center should address the needs of the orchestra for its next 100 years.