Van Cliburn Concert Hall at the Texas Christian University School of Music
Van Cliburn Concert Hall
The design development of a concert hall is an opportunity to coalesce many facets into a serene, singular space for musicians and audiences.
When we were selected to serve as theatre and AV consultants by Texas Christian University for their new School of Music project, we joined a design team managed by the University and The Projects Group, led by our long-time collaborators Bora Architecture & Interiors and including Acoustic Distinctions, architectural lighting designers Horton Lees Brogden and an exceptional team of engineers. After programming the comprehensive needs of the School into phases, the first phase was to provide the facilities they lacked: a fine concert hall for 700, an orchestra rehearsal room that could be used for recitals and functions, a marching band and wind ensemble rehearsal room, and a percussion suite. Most of our efforts are centered in the concert hall, which would be named after piano virtuoso Van Cliburn, and in the large rehearsal spaces with AV design throughout the building. The result, said in appreciation for the entire team’s efforts, is breathtaking in all aspects: acoustically, visually, and operationally. The building’s greatest success is that it will serve TCU as an inspirational teaching, learning and performance facility for the University and Fort Worth region.
A concert hall’s design is of course largely influenced by acoustics, but as David Kahn of Acoustic Distinctions kindly notes:
“The importance of the theatre consultant’s role in the design of a concert hall may not be obvious to many, but from this acoustician’s perspective, The Shalleck Collaborative team was essential to the success of the new Van Cliburn Concert Hall. The adjustable elements accommodate the broad range of programming to support TCU’s music program which ranges from piano recitals to large orchestras to large percussion ensembles to small jazz ensembles, solo recitals, etc. These elements must be easy to use and reliable and they hit it out of the park in these regards. Other key contributions include lighting systems and performance audio systems that are silent in operation.”
Ann Koonsman Orchestra Rehearsal Hall
We helped Bora arrange the Concert Hall around a large stage, so the performers as well as the audience come together with a sense of community. Intimate groups of seating terraces strategically surround the performers to bring everyone close, like gathering around a campfire. Having a visual connection to the musicians is, in fact, an aspect of how sound is perceived.
For the granular refinement of the acoustic conditions, the room can be tuned for various performance types, ensemble sizes, and conductor preferences. With experience and an appreciation for each others’ disciplines, we set in motion Acoustic Distinctions’ variable acoustics systems. The criteria required Bora’s vision for detail to make an integrated design solution.
The layout of acoustical ceiling panels appears randomized, but every inch has a purpose and was meticulously iterated by the team as it developed. The shape, location and density of the materials all balance the dispersal of sound reflections while simultaneously allowing some sound energy to gain access to, and then back down from the space above the ceiling. Twenty-three panels over the stage tilt up mechanically to allow the sound energy of larger ensembles to reach into the volume above the ceiling. Together, they manage the loudness and extend its time of travel, which is a component of reverberation.
Concert hall articulating ceiling panels
At the side and rear walls are 6,500 square feet of layered fabric banners and heavy drapes that extend and retract to affect the amount of reverberation in the room. The banners are in view, and the tracked draperies are hidden behind the wood grille and scrim finish. The system uses 27 motors that can rearrange the draperies at the press of a button for various conditions.
Great care was taken in the quality of light and its control, which draw attention to the performers, and the balance of the house lighting to present the beauty of the architecture. The fixtures are largely screened from view and shine through the carefully coordinated spaces in between the ceiling panels. Technicians can work behind the scenes and overhead on a large array of catwalks. Electrical and mechanical elements of the various systems are complex, carefully selected, and designed so they are unseen and unheard. The air in the room is efficiently and gently supplied under the auditorium’s seats, which make ventilation quiet.
Completed during the pandemic, the building began hosting performances in April 2022. Originally started at TCU in 1962, the Van Cliburn International Piano competition had moved downtown in 2001. The initial rounds selection were lured back to TCU with the hall’s opening. In June 2022, Chinese competitor Xiaolo Zang remarked, “I felt like I'm surrounded by the warm sound and music itself.”
Photo credit: Peter Molick Diagram: The Shalleck Collaborative