Like most recently built performance venues, the Carol Bush Emeny Performance Hall in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts (Amarillo, TX) is a multi-purpose hall. The 70,000-sq.ft. center is 10 stories tall at its highest point with an elegant 40', glassed-in lobby and a grand staircase. The lobby ceilings are shiny metal cattle-car panels purchased from the local company that provides them for the livestock trucks that rumble down highways of Amarillo. A sweeping roofline resembles the profile of the area's Palo Duro Canyon, including the texture and colors of the geological layers of the canyon's slopes, popularly-named “Spanish Skirts.”
The emphasis is on live, unamplified music; Emeny Hall is home to three performing groups — The Amarillo Symphony, The Lone Star Ballet, and The Amarillo Opera. Emeny Hall can accommodate amplified music as well, from rock to pop to Broadway-style musicals. But this hall is not like other multi-purpose halls.
Architecturally, the 1,300-seat Emeny, designed by Holzman Moss Architecture of New York, is radically different from the rather typical design of the performance venue that the Symphony, Opera, and Ballet previously shared — a 2,324-seat proscenium theatre, part of the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium in the city's Convention Center. First of all, Emeny Hall's seating capacity and interior space are much more suited to the concert music experience, while at the same time being much more accommodating to the full range of programming possibilities. The most striking difference between this hall and most others is that the interior space is curvilinear, though has flat planar surfaces. In keeping with the distinctive design of the venue, the hall's orchestral shell is also curvilinear, that is, truly shell-shaped.
“A typical, demountable orchestral shell is basically a box with movable ceilings and walls,” says Jaffe Holden Acoustics' architectural acoustic designer, Mark Reber. The purpose of an orchestral shell is to blend and direct sound to the audience and to the musicians themselves so they can hear each other. “But the architect designed the Emeny shell with the same curvilinear character of the hall itself.” This handling of the “moveable concert enclosure'” design is unusual.
The shell is suspended from an overhead traveling bridge (by Product Handling Design, Inc. of Carrollton, TX) and never touches the floor. The bridge rolls along crane rails and carries the shell back and forth between a 3,300-sq.ft. storage garage and the stage. The 30-ton shell can be set or struck by one person holding a hand held wireless remote in four minutes. “Typically, moveable shell ceilings store in the fly-loft and take up line-sets that touring shows need, and towers nest off stage taking up valuable wing space,” says Reber. “No line-sets or wings will be taken up with this design. It's a great solution to freeing up space.” The minimal labor and time for set up and strike down result in real cost savings. Still, this solution may be particular to facilities that have the site real estate to erect a garage upstage for storing an entire shell assembly.
Emeny's reflective walls are in keeping with its primary use as a concert hall. “The major challenge here,” says Jaffe Holden sound system designer, Howard Rose, “is to keep sound off the walls, focusing it on the audience, and making speech intelligible.” Another unique aspect of the design is to control amplified sound through “porting,” whereby sound is allowed to escape from the interior of the hall through large, strategically placed openings into an outer volume that can be controlled to either reflect or absorb sound at all frequencies through various adjustable acoustic devices. Rose's choice for center and side proscenium clusters, front fills, and house loudspeaker systems was EAW (MQM Series) with Crest amplification. “We chose equipment and configuration, knowing the conditions and the size of this hall, that help us control the sound. The EAW MQM series are mid-high devices, not full-range boxes. If we use all full-range devices, we find that we get too much low frequency energy build up, and we have to turn it off, so we use dedicated low-frequency cabinets instead. We considered using line arrays as well, but decided against them for this application because they have a very wide pattern, and half the sound would've ended up on the walls, reducing the intelligibility.”
Reber and Jaffe Holden's Jerome Smith and Russ Cooper, project principal, spent four days tuning Emeny Hall for acoustic music. The first three days were spent in rehearsals with various groups of musicians, leading up to a “hard-hat” concert. Systems designer Howard Rose returned to Amarillo in mid-January before the opening gala program in January and again in mid-February to complete tuning of the hall for amplified music. In the end, the Jaffe Holden team was able to get the measurements they needed. “We are extremely pleased with the natural sound of the hall,” says Reber. “Very warm and intimate, yet a nice reverberant sound as well.”
With world-class acoustics, great flexibility in its programming ability, and stunning architecture with a regional flare, the Globe-News Center's Emeny Hall is well on its way to being a destination for the world's best talent. “We are just really starting to understand just what we've got here,” says Gilliland. “It truly is unbelievable for little ol' Amarillo.”