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Since 1968, Berkeley California's Freight & Salvage Coffee House has been one of the most venerable institutions dedicated to presenting the best in folk and traditional music. In need of a new home to serve its increasing audience demand and accommodate its popular community and teaching programs, The Freight engaged a design team headed by Berkeley-based MWDL Architects, with the twin goals of being eco-friendly and sustaining the vibe of the original Freight as an intimate music venue for the serious listener, despite the much larger 440 person capacity.
Maintaining an institution's long standing identity is one of the greatest challenges when designing a new facility, with the risk and dilemma that it may sanitize the art. So the goal, and by all measures the success, of the new Freight is that it honestly captures timeless authenticity as a home for the music. A close-knit design team assured that everything came together: a charismatic site, the building's layout and venue configuration, the acoustics and sound system, and the green aspects. In the end, the approach earned the Freight LEED certification.
At ease with its other culturally-oriented neighbors in downtown Berkeley, the entry through a 20-foot swath of the existing building maintains the welcome of a coffeehouse. Wood was reclaimed from the 1950's service station that occupied the site and was carefully adapted for acoustic performance: It was cut and organized to create a quadratic diffuser effect, combined with absorption between the boards, and yet with its patina intact. The result is a high-performance acoustic enclosure that is aesthetically modern and yet timeless with a snappy brightness for acoustic instruments.
The rows, circulation, seating flexibility, and stage proximity are configured to make a singular music experience that is engaging and as natural as a living room. Coupled with an exceptional sound system, the audience can hang on even the most subtle note. The room was designed and equipped with a comprehensive Meyer Sound system of line array loudspeakers, subwoofers concealed under the stage, and front- and side fills. The depth of the sound field is nothing short of amazing, and the system provides even, clear coverage throughout the entire room. A digital console provides flexibility, yet allows easy access for the 30+ mix engineers on staff.
For performance lighting, distributed IGBT dimmers were the natural choice for their quiet performance, simple installation and adaptability. A complement of LED wash fixtures and computer-based controls round out the system.
The views into the venue from the upper-level meeting spaces and offices provide the students and staff constant contact with the performance space; a reminder that "this is what it's all about." The informal setting of the lobby for performance and discussions, as well as the open connection to the other program offerings upstairs, communicate to the audience community that this is a place for the whole musician and music lover.