Legendary concert hall designer Russell Johnson passed away August 7 at his New York City home. The 83-year-old acoustician founded his own firm in 1970 after graduating from Carnegie Mellon and Yale Universities where he studied architecture and also after working for acoustical consultants Bolt, Beranek and Newman for 16 years.
With more than 2,000 projects under his belt, Johnson played a part in shaping two of the most influential progressions in concert hall design during the 20th century: traditionally-shaped "shoebox" auditoriums and his trademark use of adjustable elements within a venue.
The New York Times reports that “Mr. Johnson’s first task was often persuading owners to give him priority over the architect, who was sometimes reluctant to build around Mr. Johnson’s reiteration of the classic concepts he thought necessary to achieve superb sound. The National Post quoted Clint Kuschak, who was general manager of the community auditorium in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and oversaw its building, as saying ‘We wanted the grand theater, and he wanted something that worked.’
Mr. Johnson strove to achieve four acoustic qualities: loudness, warmth, clarity and reverberation, meaning the after-ring as a sound slowly tapers into silence. The result, he said, “must be air around the music, as if the music is floating.”
He is survived by his sister.