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030 INTERVIEW


An example of Positive Sound used to improve the environment, ‘The Dark Arches’ in Leeds aimed to improve a noisy space near the city centre (road traffic running through a tunnel near the railway station). The £4.5 million scheme was developed with Berlin sound artist Hans Peter Kuhn and local graphic designer Andy Edwards. Image © Kippa Matthews.


“Arup’s strong appreciation of this unique design vision enabled us to create flexible, sustainable and engaging spaces out of the school’s performance venues, for students and professionals alike.”


amount of potential in that idea. Arup Acoustics recently advised on a scheme in Leeds called ‘The Dark Arches’ which aimed to improve a noisy space near the city centre that has road traffic running through a tunnel near the railway station. The £4.5 million scheme which has been developed with Berlin artist Hans Peter Kuhn and local graphic designer Andy Edwards includes widening the footpath, adding sound absorbing wall panels and installing a vandal proof lighting scheme featuring thousands of LEDs. Rob reveals: “By getting a sound artist to create, not just a pure sound in a silent environment, but a mix of new sound with that environment it becomes something more positive. It is not just a case of buying a disc of bird song or the sounds of water and adding those. We believe that equally inside buildings architecture is not doing enough to look after the quality of sound in the way it does with light and heat.” Sound Art looks set to become an important part of the practice. Arup’s San Francisco acoustic and lighting teams recently completed the installation of ‘Sent Forth’ a multimedia collaboration with Jefferson Mack Metal, which is now on display at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. ‘Sent Forth’ is conceived as a time- travelling airship that has been collecting audio recordings of San Francisco across the centuries. Recently, the airship has become stuck at Fort Mason Center. As it attempts to revive itself, visitors hear fragments of collected soundscapes revealing histories of the area, both composed by the malfunctioning ship and influenced by the surrounding environment. The piece includes a unique ‘Solid-Drive’ sound system that relies on the shape and materiality of the artwork to re-produce a sonic composition written by Shane Myrbeck of Arup’s San Francisco office. Site weather conditions choreograph changes in light and sound. The design and fabrication of the piece is the work of Jefferson Mack, artist, blacksmith and master metalworker, who collaborated with Arup in development of the piece.


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To come back down to earth, creating world class acoustics for buildings remains at the heart of Arup Acoustics. 2011 has proved to be another great year for the practice around the globe. In July Arup celebrated the official opening of the School of the Arts (SOTA) – an exciting new performing arts school that is set to transform Singapore’s education landscape. Rob reflects: “Under the regional leadership of Andrew Nicol, Arup’s acoustic and theatre consulting practice in Australasia, SOTA was conceived as a space that celebrates experimentation, expression and discovery. Arup’s strong appreciation of this unique design vision enabled us to create flexible, sustainable and engaging spaces out of the school’s performance venues, for students and professionals alike.” A purpose-built campus, SOTA houses a 423-seat drama theatre, 708-seat concert hall and 200-seat flexible studio theatre, as well as various academic, rehearsal and supporting facilities including, dance studios, an orchestra rehearsal room, recording studios, workshops and music practice rooms. Creating flexible, intimate spaces to inspire confidence. Across the performance venues, the overall objective was to provide a tailored environment in which young performers would feel confident and comfortable to go onstage. This required Arup’s team to develop a theatre and auditorium design that would create flexible, intimate spaces out of the venues, regardless of their capacities. One way this was reflected is through the use of a series of variable acoustic banners and an innovative motorised choir stall in the Concert Hall. When combined, the banners and choir stall allows a wide repertoire to be performed, from small ensembles to full orchestras.


THE FUTURE Rob’s current projects include a concert hall in Kristiansand Norway, a new opera theatre in Seoul, South Korea and the major refurbishment of the historic Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre in Singapore. Looking to the future he believes that buildings will become more intelligent. He argues that users will have access to surfaces that can change between being absorbent, then reflective and maybe controlled electronically in a dynamic way. Electroacoustic reverberation systems and electronic architecture concepts are going to become more important in the future. “I am absolutely convinced that this century is one of electroacoustic progress. I also believe that auralisation is going to become increasingly important and it’s potential realised. We will see things like postcode auralisation whereby people can put in a postcode of a place that they would like to live in or develop and listen to a model of how that place sounds.” And one final question: After so many extraordinary accomplishments, does he have any unfulfilled ambitions? “Yes indeed, I am interested in designing spaces for arts forms which have few current spaces designed for them acoustically, including Chinese symphonic music, Western chamber opera, Chinese opera and Islamic music. There are many challenges ahead of me.”


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