The Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, a new world-class venue, opened at the University of California Davis in October 2002, enriching the campus arts program as well as adding to the cultural wealth of the community. The $57 million, 10-story sandstone structure (named after the Mondavi wine family) was designed by BOORA Architects in Portland, OR, with the San Francisco-based Auerbach + Associates serving as theatre consultants, and McKay Conant Brook, of Westlake Village, CA, serving as acousticians. Auerbach + Glasow of San Francisco designed the architectural lighting.
“BOORA Architects did a wonderful job, and this was a true collaboration,” says Len Auerbach, principal of Auerbach + Associates. “We worked very closely with the university, and there was a real tone of enthusiasm that led to success.” For Auerbach, this success is due to the architecture itself as well as the functionality of all the spaces, from the interior, or backstage, circulation to the lobbies and public access. “In addition,” he says, “all systems are very accessible and easy to use.”
One of California's leading arts presenters, UC Davis Presents, will use the Mondavi Center's 1,800-seat Barbara K. and W. Turrentine Jackson Hall as its new home, with dance, music, and Broadway tours on the schedule, as well as student performances. This multipurpose auditorium has seating on three levels, with approximately 1,000 seats in the orchestra, and the remaining 800 in two balconies. An open acoustical environment was assured by creating very shallow balcony overhangs. The gray upholstered seats are by Irwin.
One of the main design goals was to create an intimate environment by reducing the scale of the room. To this end, the boxes, balcony fronts, and certain walls on the orchestra level were designed in small segments, instead of sweeping lines, as they step toward the stage. “Also, the side boxes are [relatively low] on the side walls so as to not be out of the peripheral view of the performers,” says Auerbach. “And you can see the stage from the boxes, believe it or not.”
The proscenium was designed to reach into the audience, reducing the distance between the performers and the audience. “The architecture of the proscenium blends into the side walls and goes deeply into the orchestra,” Auerbach explains. “It has the same finish as the room, creating ‘cheek walls,’ rather than a picture-frame proscenium.”
Intended to house the largest touring shows on the road, the stage of Jackson Hall measures 120' wide and 50' deep, while the proscenium opening can be adjusted in width from 40' to 50' or in height from 20' to 38', using architectural panels that slide. The oak stage floor is designed with enough spring for dance companies, while a 40'×24' trap area allows for scenic flexibility.
JR Clancy provided the rigging that includes a manual counterweight system with 65 linesets, 74" long and hung 8" apart (going upstage-downstage). Each lineset can lift up to 2,200lb. The grid sits 80' above the stage (there is another 7' to the roof steel of the fly tower) offering additional rigging positions. The stage lifts in front of the proscenium, also by Clancy, can be moved into place for acoustic musical events, with the musicians actually on the forestage in front of the proscenium; in other words, in the same acoustic chamber as the audience.
The location of the Mondavi Center caused the acousticians at McKay Conant Brook no small amount of challenge. There are Amtrak trains that run within 600' of the building, causing rumbling, whistles, vibrations, and low-pitched acoustic energy. A nearby interstate adds to the exterior cacophony. To isolate the building against external noise, a 3'-thick exterior “sandwich” was built with a sandstone skin on the outside, and insulation between the inner and outer walls.
To combat vibrations, the architects designed a double floor system to echo the double walls (the double floor also provided space for heating and air conditioning). In addition, a false ceiling of precast concrete panels completes the double-floor/double-wall scenario to help make the auditorium a quiet inner chamber.
Additional acoustic treatment includes sandstone panels mounted above the back half of the hall, and canted to reflect sound downward and over the audience in the balconies. Curtains stored behind wooden grilles along the upper walls of the room can extend horizontally or vertically to help absorb sound from the stage and cut the reverb time, adding to the intelligibility of speech.
Hanging over the orchestra and the front of the hall is a wooden “eyebrow” or canopy that can be angled for flexibility, as the acoustic goal of the room is variability. A house lighting bridge flies through the canopy via a lip that opens on the upstage edge, and five additional panels in the Auerbach-designed canopy also open to accommodate loudspeakers or rigging over the forestage. “If a road show comes in, they can hang their own truss right through the canopy,” notes Auerbach. “The canopy and all the electromechanical elements are amazingly quiet. They move like silk.”
For symphonic concerts, an orchestra shell glides into place on air casters. Designed by Auerbach + Associates, and built by Clancy and Adirondack Scenic, the 55,000lb orchestral shell is built in the form of an arch, with the side walls and ceiling 40' tall with suspended acoustic reflectors on the ceiling. A series of movable towers lives in the frame of the arch and creates the back wall of the shell (it is stored upstage when not in use). With this wide range of acoustic options, the room can easily be morphed from Broadway theatre to concert hall.
For events needing audio reinforcement, Jackson Hall has a sound system comprised of Renkus-Heinz CT series loudspeakers, with CT9 full-range cabinets in the left, right, and center clusters, as well as 18" Renkus-Heinz DRS18-1 subwoofers mounted on the upper proscenium wall, and additional CT9 satellite speakers for the balcony areas. Tannoy CMS-6 distributed loudspeakers serve the under-balcony seats and the first few rows of seats in the orchestra not covered by the main clusters.
BGW Performance series amplifiers power the main speaker clusters, while BGW Millennium series amps serve the distributed speakers. A 52-input Crest Audio Century Vx mixing console can be used in the control room at the rear of the room, or in the house itself for larger productions. Additional mixing locations have been identified for touring shows that bring in their own systems. A Peavey MediaMatrix digital signal-processing system controls all loudspeaker processing and delay, signal routing, and paging functions. A four-channel communication system, controlled by a Clear-Com MS-440 master station, links all backstage and production areas.
The theatrical lighting system in Jackson Hall was laid out by Auerbach + Associates, with 750 individually controlled circuits. Sacramento Theatrical Lighting served as subcontractor for the ETC dimming and control, with Musson supplying the fixtures. The system includes an ETC Obsession II console with full tracking backup and focus remote, with the principal package of Sensor dimmers including 580 20A and 16 50A dimmers.
The lighting fixture package includes ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, Strand Lighting fresnels, L&E cyc lights, Strong Super Trouper II followspots, and City Theatrical AutoYokes. Lighting positions include two front-of-house catwalks suspended in a reflector-ceiling element that spans the entire width of the hall. There are also lighting positions behind the wooden grillework, or acoustic curtain galleries, serving as high box boom positions.
The Mondavi Center, which includes both Jackson Hall and a 170-seat flexible black box studio theatre, provides the university with an important link to the community, and attention was paid to the historic nature of the site where native Americans once lived. “The elders of the tribe came and spoke at the dedication,” says Auerbach. “It was wonderful.”
At the opening night concert last October, Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the San Francisco Symphony playing one of his own compositions. “Afterward, he stopped to congratulate the university and the community on their new hall,” notes Auerbach. “He told them they have a wonderful instrument. Everyone was blown away by that.”