The Symphonic Hall
The Symphonic Hall, known as the Grande Salle, is a remarkable architectural feat: an ‘enveloping’ auditorium that immerses the audience, for a uniquely intimate listening experience.
Following neither the ‘shoebox’ style (as at the Musikverein in Vienna), nor the ‘vineyard’ style (as at the Berlin Philharmonie), the Philharmonie de Paris invents a model all its own, with an adjustable concert hall based on the concept of envelopment. This original design required innovations in architecture, stage design and acoustical engineering. The architect, Jean Nouvel and lead acoustician Sir Harold Marshall designed the room during synergetic sessions, with the architect, acoustician and theatre consultant working in a highly collaborative environment.
Though a large-capacity hall (2400 seats), this space within the Philharmonie feels remarkably intimate. But this feeling can be mathematically explained: the distance between the conductor and the farthest spectator is only 32 metres (compared to 48 metres at the Salle Pleyel for a smaller audience). ‘Evocative of immaterial, draped sheets of music and light, the hall suspends the listeners-spectators in space, on long balconies… This suspension creates the impression of being immersed in music and light’, explains the architect, Jean Nouvel.
Assisted by Metra & Associés (the associate architect), Atelier Jean Nouvel worked with Marshall Day Acoustics and Ducks Sceno to develop a bold system of cantilevered balconies and floating clouds, combining envelopment, intimacy and spaciousness. The stage can accommodate any orchestral formation, even the most imposing. The hall is also equipped with a Rieger organ, specially designed for the symphonic repertory.
Setting a benchmark in acoustics
The acoustic sub-consultant to Jean Nouvel was the New Zealander Sir Harold Marshall of Marshall Day Acoustics. He recently collaborated with Zaha Hadid on the Guangzhou Opera House and is considered the pioneer of lateral reflections and a highly innovative designer of concert halls. Jean Nouvel also benefitted from the expertise of the Japanese Yasuhisa Toyota, notably associated with the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
The acoustical programme (drawn up by Kahle Acoustics) called for great clarity of sound combined with high reverberation, as well as significant lateral reflections and a close, intimate feeling — all to be achieved within a new typology. The solution was found in a daring system of floating balconies which creates the intimacy, and the outer chamber, which produces the high reverberation. This new model interweaves lateral reflections, direct sound and reverberation, to achieve excellent clarity and transparency within a warm, enveloping resonance.
Another acoustical feat, of a different sort but no less remarkable, is to have succeeded in soundproofing the hall against outside noise, which is considerable given the Philharmonie’s location near Boulevard Sérurier, the Péripherique (ring road around Paris) and the Zénith. This was achieved by Studio DAP using the ‘box within a box’ concept, i.e., by leaving a space between the walls. In this respect as well, the hall adheres to the poetic yet highly technical notion of a ‘floating auditorium’.
One of the features that makes the Philharmonie unique among European concert halls is its versatility. To develop this aspect, Atelier Jean Nouvel, assisted by Metra & Associés worked closely with Marshall Day Acoustics and with the agency Ducks, specialising in concert hall stage design, with previous projects at the Opéra de Lyon and in Copenhagen. The aim is to be able to adapt the auditorium to different genres of music, while always providing optimal viewing and listening conditions. In the symphonic configuration, the audience surrounds the orchestra. The tiers behind the stage can accommodate a choir if required for the work being presented, but are more often filled by spectators. But in the case of concert-format operas or ‘ciné-concerts’ (film screenings to live music), the modular concept allows these back tiers to be eliminated and the stage to be moved back, increasing the parterre. Another innovative feature is that the seats in the parterre can be removed to leave standing room for contemporary music concerts.