Kleinhans Music Hall - Table of Contents ...................  Eliel and Eero Saarinen - Table of Contents


Kleinhans Music Hall: The Design

By Eliel Saarinen

The shape of the violin [the overall shape of Kleinhans Music Hall] has not derived from a preconceived style form. It has derived from and through its own function of a musical instrument and with distinct requirements as to the quality and carrying capacity of its sound, and as to how it is handled by the player. That is, the shape of the violin is based on both musical and human qualifications.

This holds true with regard to any musical instrument, provided that instrument has genuinely and functionally been crystalized into a form of its own. And as a concert auditorium to its inmost nature is a musical instrument -- and very much so, for that matter -- its for-mation must derive accordingly.

There is, however, one fundamental difference between the violin and the concert auditorium. Whereas the sound of the violin brings the surrounding space into vibration, any music played in the auditorium must vibrate within that very space having been enclosed by the auditorium itself. According to these two contrasting characteristics, the respective instruments -- the violin and the concert auditorium -- must be shaped. In the case of the violin, form shaping must be "open" so as to allow the vibrations of sound to fill the surrounding space. In the case of the concert auditorium, on the other hand, form shaping must be "closed" so as to keep the vibrations of sound within that space designed for these vibrations.

Still more to illustrate our point of "openness" versus "enclosure" we might draw another parallel - -now purely an architectural one -- by referring to the Greek Temple and the Mediaeval Cathedral, respectively. And with this parallel we will stress the meaning of openness versus enclosure, not only in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well, and particularly in that latter sense.

In the case of the Greek Temple, the people during the ceremonial performance were outside of the structure. For this reason the exterior formation of the temple was designed "open" by means of im-posing colonnades, thus to effect serenity of mind. Through abundant sunlight and because of the depth of the colonnades, there was achieved a play of light and shadow, of color and spatial brilliance, thus to effect a sentiment of sanguine and esthetic optimism. In the case of the Mediaevel Cathedral, on the other hand, the people during the service were inside of the structure. For this reason the cathedral was designed "closed," and its interior was de-signed lofty in order to elevate minds to sublime thought. And by means of spare light it was made spatially indistinct so as to create a sentiment of inner mystic contemplation. In the case of the Greek Temple, the spatial accord, so to speak, was tuned in major. In the case of the Mediaeval Cathedral it was tuned in minor.

In the case of the concert auditorium, the above intends to emphasize -- besides the point of phys-ical "enclosure" -- another and more essential point, namely, that any such auditorium, to be a musical in-strument, must be so shaped by means of architectural form expression, as to tune both performers and public toward a musically constructive disposition of mind. Metaphorically speaking, the concert auditorium, by means of its form, must be part of that music played within its walls.

a. The Main Auditorium

In the designing of the Kleinhans Music Hall, the above expressed thoughts constituted the spiritual program of the design work. Inother words, the shape and character of the main auditorium were not conceived as a mere conventional product of some randomlyselected architectural style, historical or otherwise, for such an approach to the problem would have been just as backward a procedure as to design a violin to satisfy some style demands having nothing inc ommon with the nature of a violin. The shape and character of the main auditorium were conceived as a "musical instrument" where the solution of the problem had to grow from within in accordance with the demands, both spiritual and practical, of such an instrument. In this process it was the aim of the designers to create -- in accordance with the above described recipe -- an architectural atmosphere in this auditorium so as to tune the performers and the public alike in a proper mood of performance and receptiveness, respectively.

This was the spiritual issue.

In order to satisfy the demands of this spiritual issue, however, there were many practical and technical requirements which were of basic significance in the shaping and proportioning of the auditorium.

First, there were the acoustical requirements which to a considerable degree decided the general form of the auditorium and the disposition of stage, seats and surfaces. Furthermore, these acoustical requirements decided much of the character and texture of ceiling, walls, and of floor covering, so as to ascertain satisfactory reverberation.

Second, there was the problem of an adequate relationship between the musicians on the stage and the public in the auditoriumproper. In this respect we do not mean particularly that practical matter of adequate sight from every chair, but even the psychological side of a pleasant participating in the performance. It must namely be borne in mind -- and this is a well known fact to every performer -- that the action of any successful performance is dual and reciprocal, where the performers and the public influence and inspire one another. And the more both the performers and the public have been disposed, by means of favorable planning, to such a reciprocal influence and inspiration, the better the design of the auditorium does meet one of its primary requirements.

Third, there was the problem of shaping the auditorium so as to provide for possibilities of various and varying light effects according to the changing moments and accents, as the performance proceeds. This point the designers considered of a particular importance, as the proposed double lighting with cold and worm color is essential in the bringing of forms and proportions into their full value, and also in bringing the varying light effects into accord with corresponding variations of performance and intervals.

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