Sunlight pours in through an elliptical opening, making a playful architectural statement and accenting the soaring lobby in the new multipurpose Dijon Auditorium, which opened last November in Dijon, France. Designed by the Miami, FL firm Arquitectonica, the 1,611-seat auditorium is used for theatre, dance, meetings, opera, and symphony orchestra performances, and is part of a modern exhibition and business center tucked onto the edge of Dijon, a medium-sized city that dates from the Middle Ages.
The decidedly modern architectural style is the signature of Bernardo Fort-Brescia, FAIA, and Laurinda Spear, FAIA, the principals of Arquitectonica, which won the international competition to design this mixed-use district. The area is linked to the older part of the city via a boulevard that cuts directly under the portion of the building containing the sweeping lobby area. Escalators carry audiences to and from the upper level.
Chassagne stone, a hard beige limestone from local quarries, covers the exterior facades of the auditorium building, with its multilevel shape measuring 200m (660') long and tailored with elongated curves to fit onto a tight triangular site. Glass and steel accent the facades, while a large metal sculpture sits on the outside of the 34m (112')-high stage house. A coal-gray metallic roof on the stage house adds another visual dimension to the building.
Geometric shapes echo throughout the interiors, with gray granite, red marble, terrazzo floors, and warm wood used as distinctive design elements in the public areas. Inside the auditorium itself, dramatic patterns of dark and light wood are topped by dark blue wall panels. The walls are punctuated with plaster acoustic shapes called "pillows," designed by Artec Consultants, the New York City-based firm which served as theatre consultant and acoustician for the project, and also designed the sound and communications systems. Artec joined Arquitectonica at the design competition stage in 1991 and saw the project through to completion last year.
The seating layout in the auditorium was designed by Artec, using a system called "Weinberg plateaux," or layers of seating that rise along the sides of the orchestra level all the way to the second balcony. This allows full circulation throughout the hall for audience and convention delegates. "The seating is terraced like vineyards," says Robert W. Wolff, chief acoustics and theatre design consultant for Artec, who served as the principal-in-charge of the Dijon project. The seats themselves are upholstered in black velour with warm wood backs; 1,000 seats are located on the lower levels, and the other 611 are in the second balcony. The custom seats were designed exclusively for the Dijon Auditorium and installed by Quinette Gallay, based in Montreuil, France.
"The first balcony sits within reverse fan walls," Wolff explains, pointing out that the city elders did not want anything that looked at all like their existing 900-seat, Italian-style opera house. They also did not want a hierarchical system with balconies piled one atop the other. For Artec, normally champions of vertical, wraparound seating configurations, the design of this hall was both a challenge and a departure.
The second balcony is split in two sections with a wide cross-aisle halfway back. Simultaneous interpretation booths are located at the back of the orchestra level, with the lighting/sound booth at the back of the first balcony level and followspot positions above the second balcony. An additional audio mixing position exists on the main seating level, with the eventual possibility of adding a lift to bring the sound equipment into place. A special box for the mayor of Dijon is located on one of the house-right terraces.
For more intimate, non-amplified events, the room can be made "smaller" by using just the 1,000 seats on the lower level. This was the case for a production of The Inspector General, which played in Dijon in June.
The interior walls are wood veneers covering concrete, with the wooden parquet floors also laid on poured concrete. The stage, which measures 31m (102') wide by 17m (56') deep, is fully trapped and outfitted with cable channels in the oak flooring. A side and rear stage are immediately accessible to the main stage; a wall rises for access to the side stage and another slides sideways into a closet to reveal the backstage.
The flexibility of the stage comes through the use of two forestage extension/orchestra lifts by Gala of Montreal, Canada. These can be used in three positions: stage level; depressed to audience level with chair wagons (with extra rows of seats) on them; and all the way down to orchestra pit level. The lifts were specified by Artec in collaboration with Architecture et Technique in St. Quentin, France (near Versailles) and installed by AMG Culture Communication, a French company run by Micheline Gauthier-Fechoz that specializes in theatrical and museum installations.
The fire safety curtain (also provided by AMG) is a rigid wall of corrugated metal 6" thick with yellow beacon lights at the bottom that flash when the wall moves. Downstage of the fire curtain, in the zone where side boxes are usually placed, there are four levels of pipes for hanging lights. "Each level has a door that allows easy access for focusing," points out William B. Allison III, project manager and chief theatre consultant for Artec. "This is a simple solution that works nicely."
Allison also worked on the theatrical lighting system, which includes a Strand 530 console as well as Strand dimmers and luminaires. A second Strand 530 is kept backstage for manual backup or for local control. "There are four integrated lighting components," says Allison, who lists the concert lighting, theatrical lighting, worklights, and house lights. The house light control is separate from the theatrical system. The lighting system was installed by Cegelec of Quetigny, France.
Since it is a lyric as well as symphonic hall, there is a proscenium arch, albeit an unusual one in that it does not sit at right angles to the stage. "This adds to the drama of the room," Wolff says, adding, "This is a choice Arquitectonica made." The proscenium is adjustable and moves from 12m (40') to 18m (59') wide, and 9m (30') to 12m (40') high. A lighting pipe is built into the bottom edge of the proscenium and hidden behind masking. Up to 50 instruments can be hung there for stage lighting.
There are also lighting pipes built into the adjustable legs of the proscenium arch, and a motorized light bridge that moves up and down directly behind the proscenium header The rigging system, also installed by AMG, includes 78 linesets, half of which are motorized, the other half manual (Allison predicts that all will be motorized eventually).
The acoustic designers had to bear in mind the hall's multipurpose nature. "Our goal was to create a hall that could serve many kinds of attractions, from conventions to orchestras," says Wolff. "What we created is a good lyric theatre into which we have interjected new thinking about how to integrate the orchestra."
The design of the concert ceiling was one of Artec's biggest challenges. "We wanted to keep it out of the way for flying in theatre or opera scenery," explains Wolff. The solution entails the use of two steel I-beams that run upstage/downstage and are placed 30m (99') apart like wide railroad tracks. Rolling on the beams are two catwalks that travel from an upstage storage "garage" to their play positions downstage. Each catwalk has one downstage and one upstage pivoting ceiling panel, or "wings" that raise and lower in opposition to each other.
The wings are birch plywood-clad, steel-framed panels with expanded metal walkable surfaces (to allow access to concert lighting built into the underside of the downstage wings). The ceiling panels move from their garage upstage to the downstage concert position with just the push of a button. The garage storage area is hidden from the audience by the top of the proscenium arch. A series of 11 mobile concert towers can be used in various configurations, depending on the type of music performed. "The side walls also act as a concert treatment, so the orchestra can play all the way downstage," says Wolff. The downstage wing can also be used alone with curtains behind it for lower reverberation--a recital, for example. There is a very fast turnover time; Artec claims that three stagehands need only 20 minutes to turn a bare stage into a full concert shell.
The acoustic pillows in the audience chamber combine 60mm (2 1/2") plaster with lath and steel frames. A complete set of banners can cover the plaster blocks. "These are used as reflectors to keep the energy forward in the room, and direct the sound appropriately," Wolff notes. "You can steal sound from where there is a lot and redirect it to the central ground floor area where it is needed. Overall, it is a warm room."
Artec also specified a sound reinforcement system for popular music concerts, such as singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who performed in the new hall recently. "We installed a system that can be used for a wide choice of programming, and they need every bit of what they thought they would," explains Thomas Young, sound and communications system design specialist for Artec. The system can be used for localization of sound, to improve dynamic range, and for stereo imaging. All of the speakers are by Eastern Acoustic Works. There are two mixing consoles--a Midas XL4 and a Yamaha A024--with 28 QSC amplifiers (17 QSC MX1500s and 11 QSC MX3000s). Microphones are by Schoeps, Shure, and Sennheiser.
"The space has a very comprehensive left and right speaker system, with lower ones to help pull the sound down," says Young. There are also portable speakers that can be placed where needed, such as for reinforcing acoustic jazz or pop singers with a 60-piece orchestra. The room was tuned using the Meyer Sound SIM-II system. Bob McCarthy served as the SIM specialist.
The main speaker cluster (which includes the subwoofers) hangs in front of the proscenium header on a loudspeaker bridge, which is a covered assembly that raises and lowers into place. French-made "grille" cloth covers the speaker bridge. "You can have a fully reinforced event without actually seeing any of the speakers," says Young. There are additional speakers installed along the sides of the proscenium in the boom box positions, as well as semi-recessed into the balcony overhang and tucked under the first balcony. A delay cluster is located in the upper catwalk above the second balcony level.
"The speaker placement and tuning allows for an increased width of coverage," Young says. "The system is perfectly timed and equalized to allow for more really good seats sound-wise. There is very wide stereo coverage." The sound equipment was provided by Tech Audio from Pantin, France.
Architectural lighting for the Dijon Auditorium was designed by Herve Descottes and George Berne of l'Observatoire 1, the Paris office of an international design firm that frequently partners with Arquitectonica. Descottes describes the lighting within the audience chamber as having two dimensions. "It is both monumental and on a more human scale," he explains. By monumental, he means a series of long glass crystals that glow between the gold acoustic pillows on the side walls. "It is like a penetration of diffuse light coming from the exterior, like through a geode," Descottes says. "It keeps the warmth of the evening light. It's a spectacular sensation." The crystals replace the traditional chandeliers found in a theatre. "This is like the abstraction of a chandelier," Descottes says. Like Arquitectonica, he enjoys playing with the abstraction of traditional theatre forms.
On the more human scale are multiple points of halogen light using GE PAR-30 lamps in Erco Quinta fixtures focused on the audience. These lamps are meant to pick up the colors in the room as well as accent the clothing of the audience. "The many small points of light contrast with the mass of the glowing crystals," says Descottes, who points out that l'Observatoire 1 worked closely with Artec, as the acoustics were the primary concern for the hall.
"Artec gave us strict guidelines regarding fixtures, lamps, and installation," he says. Certain types of halogen lamps, fluorescent tubes, and fiber optics were forbidden due to ambient noise levels. In the lobby, where there were fewer restrictions, dimmable fluorescents were used in recessed ceiling coves to create geometric patterns. The warm wood from the audience chamber carries out into the lobby, where it is lit with 250W halogen PAR-38 wall washers by Erco.
"It is lit in an abstract diffuse way," says Descottes, who describes the lobby as a "warm glowing cigar box" you can see from outside the building. "There is no specific facade lighting," he says. "All the light glows from the inside." In contrast to this warmth, cooler white metal halide fixtures are used to light the front facade of the exhibition center.
Although the auditorium opened last November, Artec staffers still go back and forth to Dijon as "guest artists" on the project. "We are helping them get acclimated to the various acoustics and the complexity of the sound system," says Wolff. "There are many adjustments to be made in using such a sophisticated room."
Architect: Arquitectonica; Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear, principals in charge of design; Dean B. Lewis, project manager
Acoustics and theatre consultant: Artec Consultants; Robert W. Wolff, associate in charge, chief acoustics and theatre design consultant; William B. Allison III, project manager, chief theatre consultant; Michael J. Mell and Edward Arenius, theatre consultants; Damian Doria, acoustics consultant; Thomas Young, sound and communications systems design
Architectural lighting design:l'Observatoire 1; Herve Descottes, partner-in-charge; George Berne, partner-in-charge; Nathalie Kirch, project developer; Phillip Michelle, project developer
Stage design subconsultant: Architecture et Technique; Michele Kergosien
Acoustics subconsultant: Acoustique; Bruno Suner
Stage machinery and rigging installation: AMG Culture Communication; Micheline Gauthier-Fechoz
Lighting equipment supplier: Strand Lighting
Lighting equipment installation: Cegelec; Philippe Picard
Sound and communication systems supplier: Tech Audio
Audience seating manufacture/installation: Quinette Gallay
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT Control:Strand 530, 1,000cct Dimmers:Strand EC90 Plus (468) 3kW modules, (108) 5kW modules
Fixtures: (60) Strand 1,200W PCs, (20) Strand 1,250W Cyclo's, (10) Strand 4X1 250W Cyclo's, (76) Strand 1,000W PAR-64s, (6) 250mm 5,000W fresnels, (12) 3,050mm 2,000W fresnels, (2) Robert Juliat 1,200W HMIs, (125) Robert Juliat Decoupe 1,000W framing projectors, (2) Robert Juliat Athos 1,200W HMI profiles, (2) Robert Juliat D'Artagnan 2,500W HMI profiles, (2) Robert Juliat Aramis 2,500W HMI followspots
Permanent concert lighting fixtures: (79) Strand PAR-64 1,000W Cls, (37) Strand PAR-64 1,000W Shorties, (55) 1,000W Robert Juliat Decoupe framing projectors for CL
SOUND EQUIPMENT Mixing consoles: Yamaha A02R; Midas XL
Amplification:(17) QSC MX1500s, (11) QSC MX3000s
Speakers: (2) EAW KF853s, (10) EAW KF650s, (2) EAW 5632s, (4) EAW SB840s, (8) EAW JF60s, (4) EAW KF650 portables, (4) EAW DS153s, (6) EAW SM155s
Microphones:Schoeps; Shure; Sennheiser
Equalization and signal processing: Lexicon 300; Klark Teknik DN504 and 514; Peavey Media Matrix
Mixers: Midas and Yamaha
Signal Processors: Lexicon, Klark Teknik, Peavey Media Matrix
Recorders: Technics, Tascam, Marantz
Intercoms:ASL, Overline, Clear-Com