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Since 1968, Berkeley California’s Freight & Salvage Coffee House has been one of the most venerable institutions dedicated to presenting the best in folk and traditional music. In need of a new home to serve its increasing audience demand and accommodate its popular community and teaching programs, The Freight engaged a design team headed by Berkeley-based MWDL Architects, with the twin goals of being eco-friendly and sustaining the vibe of the original Freight as an intimate music venue for the serious listener, despite the much larger 440 person capacity.

Maintaining an institution’s long-standing identity is one of the greatest challenges when designing a new facility, with the risk and dilemma that it may sanitize the art. So the goal, and by all measures the success, of the new Freight is that it honestly captures timeless authenticity as a home for the music. A close-knit design team assured that everything came together: a charismatic site, the building’s layout and venue configuration, the acoustics and sound system,and the green aspects. In the end, the approach earned Freight LEED certification.

At ease with its other culturally-oriented neighbors in downtown Berkeley, the entry through a 20’ swath of the existing building maintains the welcome of a coffeehouse. Wood was reclaimed from the 1950s service station that occupied the site and was carefully adapted for acoustic performance: It was cut and organized to create a quadratic diffuser effect, combined with absorption between the boards, and yet with its patina intact. The result is a high-performance acoustic enclosure that is aesthetically modern and yet timeless with a snappy brightness for acoustic instruments.

The rows, circulation, seating flexibility, and stage proximity are configured to make a singular music experience that is engaging and as natural as a living room. Coupled with an exceptional sound system, the audience can hang on even the most subtle note. The room was designed and equipped with a comprehensive Meyer Sound system of line array loudspeakers, subwoofers concealed under the stage, and front- and side fills. The depth of the sound field is nothing short of amazing, and the system provides even, clear coverage throughout the entire room. A digital console provides flexibility, yet allows easy access for the 30+ mix engineers on staff.

For performance lighting, distributed IGBT dimmers were the natural choice for their quiet performance, simple installation and adaptability. A complement of LED wash fixtures and computer-based controls round out the system.

The views into the venue from the upper-level meeting spaces and offices provide the students and staff constant contact with the performance space, a reminder that “this is what it’s all about.” The informal setting of the lobby for performance and discussions, as well as the open connection to the other program offerings upstairs, communicate to the audience community that this is a place for the whole musician and music lover.

Design Team
Owner, Freight & Salvage: Steve Baker & Staff
Architects: MWDL Architects, Donn Logan, Marcy Wong, Tai-RanTseng
Theatre/audio consultant: The Shalleck Collaborative, Adam Shalleck, Ian Hunter
Acoustic Consultant: Charles Salter Associates, David Schwind, Jason Duty
Manufacturer: Meyer Sound, John & Helen Meyer, John Monitto, Pete Soper
AV contractor : Promedia/Ultrasound, Mike Chase
Lighting contractor: Legend Theatrical, Dave Dunning, Matt Gordon

16 Meyer Sound M’Elodie Line Array Loudspeaker
2 Meyer Sound 600-HP Subwoofer
4 Meyer Sound M1D Line Array Loudspeaker
5 Meyer Sound UPJ-1P VariO Loudspeaker
4 Meyer Sound UM-1P Monitor Loudspeaker
2 Meyer Sound UM-100P Monitor Loudspeaker
Meyer Sound Galileo DSP/Loudspeaker Processor
Meyer Sound MM-4XP and Stella 4C Loudspeaker (lobby, office, outside alcove)
Soundcraft Vi4 Console
BSS Soundweb DSP
Clear-Com Intercom System
Listen Technologies Assistive Listening System

1 Jands Vista S1 Lighting Console
10 Chroma-Q Color Block 2 LED Lighting Fixture
4 Philips Strand S21 IGBT Dimmer Strip
ETC Source Four ERS
ETC Source Four PAR