Bing Concert Hall at night. (Photo by Jeff Goldberg)
Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford (Calif.) University opened with the boom of the school’s 100-piece orchestra at the beginning of the year.
The Bing family donated $50 million to the project in 2006, with the rest of the funds coming from other donations and university contribution. The hall serves as an option for those who want to stay in the area for their fill of concert hall music, as well as gives the students a world-class facility in which to play.
“We’re kind of a nexus between the campus and the community,” said Executive Director of Stanford Live and Bing Concert Hall Wiley Hausam. “We’re down in the peninsula and there really isn’t anything like this around here, so a lot of folks who have been going to San Francisco for this type of programming are able to come enjoy our music. It’s much more convenient.”
Bing Concert Hall serves as the epicenter of Stanford Live, which includes the 842-seat hall, the 1,000-capacity Memorial Church for choral works, 1,700-seat Memorial Auditorium, and 5,000-seat Frost Amphitheater. The concert hall is used for a lot of acoustical events; however, also has the technology to amplify music, mostly for jazz and world events.
The acoustician for the project, Yasuhisa Toyota, also worked on Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and is the company director of Ngata Acoustics.
He committed to the project in August 2007 as did the architect, Richard Olcott of Ennead Architects, and the two began working together immediately.
“It’s very important to collaborate with the architects from the very beginning,” said Toyota. “The fundamental room shape and the materials area are very important for both architecture and acoustics, so it means we have to work very closely together.”
The Stanford Symphony Orchestra at Bing Concert Hall. (Photo by Mark & Tracy Photography)
Though Bing Concert Hall’s seating comes in at 849, compared to the 2,265-capacity at Walt Disney Concert Hall, both are designed to accommodate a full symphony.
“Both of the projects are so different, but still equally challenging,” said Toyota. “The programming at Stanford University demands a lot, and the room shape is so different.”
The hall has a massive ceiling height of more than 56 feet, stretched into a 155-foot-long oval. Along with the ceiling height helping to create a longer reverberation, there are other architectural and acoustical elements in the hall to enhance the sound quality. There are panels, or sails, mounted on the walls and ceiling. The panels were developed by Kreysler to disperse sound. Also, there are several microshape wave elements.
“We requested to the architect to have some decorative surface, and they proposed the wave form,” said Toyota. “It helps the sound travel by scattering it.”
“The shape works well acoustically and looks interesting. The visual and the acoustical are both very important in the whole experience of the concert hall, which is why close collaboration between the architect and acoustician is so important,” Toyota added.
Watch a fly-through tour of the building, from Ennead Architects
In order to test the sound for the final designs, a 1/24-scale model of the building was built.
“We can make the small, physical model and make actual sounds in it to test and avoid echoes,” said Toyota. “We test with those small-scale models before, make adjustments, and after that all we can do is just pray.”
Since opening, the hall has been a popular spot. Bing Concert Hall will have a visiting artists series of about 35 artists each year. The inaugural year has already included performances by Yo Yo Ma, Los Lobos, and Mingus Big Band. The Stanford Symphony will also play about eight concerts each year.
Hausam said that nearly every show has sold out so far, helped in part by a serious student discount.
“Tickets for students are just $10. Considering some of our tickets are $95-$200, it’s quite a deal for them,” said Hausam, who added that students make up about 17 percent of the entire audience.
Though he said the acoustics were the most important, Hausam stressed the emphasis on providing a comfortable experience and an indoor-outdoor experience.
“We paid a lot of attention to how wide the seats were, the height of the steps, and little details to make the hall most comfortable for our guests,” he said. “Also, a great deal of focus was put on the lobby space. We’re near the entrance to the Stanford campus and wanted to focus on the idea of a clearing in the woods.”
The idea was achieved by using two large barn doors and walls of windows. The result was what Hausam called a unique facility, both in intimacy and capacity.
Bing Concert Hall also includes a 2,300-sq.-ft. Studio Theater used for instruction and practice.
Interviewed for this story: Wiley Hausam, (650) 723-2551; Yasuhisa Toyota, (310) 231-7878