What happens when you are building a state-of-the art concert hall next to an Air Force base? At Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, the designers were faced with that exact challenge: creating concert hall acoustics free from the roar of C-130 planes coming in for a landing less than a mile away.

The Venue

The Lagerquist Concert Hall was built in the Mary Baker Russell Music Center on campus in the mid-1990’s. Previously, concerts and music events were performed in an older auditorium and the noise disruption from the nearby air field was legendary. The music department at PLU is renowned, but having McChord Air Force Base (now called Joint-Base Lewis-McChord) next door prevented the ensembles from creating recordings of their concerts. And, truthfully, listening to a large military air craft fly overhead in the middle of a performance was jarring and disruptive.

Designing for premier concert hall acoustics and noise reduction

The hall is a shoebox design with a raised parterre. It’s a relatively small space, seating fewer than 550, but can stage a full orchestra or choir. The unique challenge for this space, however, was making certain the acoustics would be top-notch and the neighboring air base wouldn’t disrupt the beautiful music being created.

This began with a 50 foot ceiling and structural masonry pilasters to support the concrete ceiling slab. Placing the slab required the use of the largest crane available on the West Coast. The masonry pilasters give the space low-frequency diffusion. Over the slab a pitched, shingle roof was built, making a large airspace to absorb the sound from above.

concert hall acoustics: ceiling

Engineered for beautiful acoustics

Other acoustic design features include painted block for the upper walls of the room. Mixing split-face and honed-face block created visual interest as well as high-frequency diffusion. Movable velvet panels help adjust the acoustics for different types of music, such as jazz or individual recitals.

Concert Hall Acoustics: Walls

Walls engineered for structure and acoustics enhancement.

Glass works from famed local artist

As an interesting side note, famed glass artist Dale Chihuly, a friend of Pacific Lutheran University, has some pieces permanently on display in the east-facing windows of the building itself titled, “PLU Rose.”

concert hall acoustics: PLU rose

“PLU Rose” by Dale Chihuly

If you have the opportunity to attend a concert there, don’t pass it by! Experience performance as it was meant to be heard. Truly one of the most interesting places I’ve been to and the concert hall acoustics were astounding. The construction company was Absher, and the architect was Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership.