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Sound Decisions

April 15, 2001

While it is gratifying to see that The Times has finally discovered that there is an acoustical engineer on the Disney Hall project rather than only an architect, it is also disappointing to be exposed to the irrational exuberance exhibited by Mark Swed for the surround design of the hall ('An Ear for Perfection," April 8).

It is a stubborn fact that rectangular rooms provide better acoustics than surround halls. The top three halls in the world are shoebox-shaped, as are six of the top eight. All surround halls sacrifice acoustical excellence in some seating areas. Seats that are on the sides and behind the orchestra have much poorer acoustical results than seats that are in front of the orchestra.

The statement that a shoebox hall "works best if it is relatively small, less than 2,000 seats," while true, also applies to any other kind of hall. Boston Symphony Hall, one of the three best in the world, has 2,600 seats. Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, also in the top three, has more than 2,000 seats.

What is true of a surround hall is that it provides the architect with greater freedom of expression. While this may be a rational choice in cities such as Los Angeles, it does not serve the needs of the city to overhype the expected acoustical result.

What we will have at the end of the day is a beautiful, elegant, B+-sounding hall, which is better than what we have now.


Marshall Long Acoustics

Sherman Oaks


One of the pleasures of working downtown is seeing new projects constructed. Using public transportation, I pass the Disney Hall project twice a day on my way between Union Station and Belmont High. It is thrilling to watch L.A.'s concert space take shape.

The science of acoustics is absolutely Greek to me. Yet I found Swed's article fascinating because it was so understandable. I look forward not only to watching Frank O. Gehry's building rise, but also to hearing the sounds behind its landmark exterior.


Laguna Niguel


Swed tells us of Gehry's "celebrated design" of the Disney Concert Hall.

Rather than "celebrated," the proper adjective should be "infamous."


Beverly Hills


As I was reading your cover story, I became somewhat confused. Disney Hall's interior space is compared with Yasuhisa Toyota's previous achievement, Sapporo Concert Hall, even going so far as to state that if one were to "put the schematics ... on top of one another ... they reveal a close fit."

Yet a comparison of the printed schematics shows a significant difference: Sapporo Hall was designed with non-parallel walls in the classic acoustical shape, while Disney Hall is shown with parallel walls. What did I miss?




Swed sounds as if the Disney Hall construction is setting a new standard of excellence for the industry. That was done here in San Luis Obispo in the Performing Arts Center's Harmon Hall more than five years ago.

Yasuhisa Toyota is quoted as saying the same things that were uttered by acoustic engineers here as they planned one of the world's finest acoustically tuned concert halls. The extraordinary partnership of design and engineering has produced a facility that has a background noise level test of an unprecedented 17, when the previous gold standard was 22.

Let us know when you catch up.


San Luis Obispo

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