Wall of sound

15 Feb 2010

Innovative use of common material creates lyrical solution

Challenging economics inspired designers of the new University of South Florida School of Music to investigate unusual construction strategies and design a dramatic yet simple defining element – a 'lyrical wall' - that uses shadow and materiality to create interest, express rhythm and pattern, and unite building elements in a harmonious whole.The $36 million (USD) facility, opening this autumn, houses a 500-seat concert hall, a 100-seat student recital hall, choral, orchestral and jazz halls, classrooms, faculty studios, and student practice rooms in 103,000 sq ft.

The site has public and academic faces. Capturing and directing pedestrian traffic created the potential to achieve broad engagement and public presence. The climate is hot and humid, making shaded exterior paths essential. Envisioning more than a covered walkway, the architects designed a backdrop, which evolved into a defining feature. The client initially wanted a masonry building. High costs caused designers to explore other solutions. The simple construct of the wall and performance venues were particularly suited to a combination of site-cast, tilt-up structural concrete and precast veneer. On-site tilt-up fabrication using local materials eliminates numerous modes of building product transport, complementing sustainability measures.

Staccato, solid, void. The 400-foot wall defines a stage set as pedestrians move along the path. Parts of the wall hide building, other parts define spaces; a student courtyard, a green amphitheater, intimate eddies. The wall soars to 55 feet and diminishes to bench height. Its playful distribution of light and shadow articulates 'sound generating spaces' and the choreography of interaction.

Enhancing teaching and learning, the 'lyrical wall' diminishes barriers, sponsoring informal outdoor student practice spaces, unconventional teaching spaces, and an interface to observe and mingle. It becomes the School’s identity, orders the site, and serves as conduit between inside and out, between public and private.

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