A bit niche but...

Are you building a concert hall?


The following article is intended to help guide your choices during the planning phase of a new concert hall. It is written from the viewpoint of someone whose full-time job is to work in a concert hall and has done so for quite some time now. Everything in here should cross your mind at least once during planning and design.

Physical Layout



Loading Dock


The hall should have access to a secure, well-lit, and covered loading dock with room for at least two trucks. If performers, special guests and/or staff will also be parking in the dock there should be dedicated space to do so without interfering with the loading dock bays. If this dock is to be shared with delivery services or other departments like food/beverage there should be a third dock bay to accommodate this or there will be an endless need for truck shuffling at very inconvenient times. Trash and recycling services should have a dedicated location not using a dock space. Performers’ busses will need a close tie-in to electrical power so they don’t idle their generator the whole time they’re parked; plan for at least one heavy-duty power tie per dock space. As transport progresses in the direction of EVs it would be wise to plan for a future vehicle charging station large enough to charge bus or semi sized vehicles.

There should be enough separation between the concert hall and the loading dock to have the dock doors open and actively in use during a concert.

The path from the loading dock to the stage should be smooth and wide enough to comfortably push a 9’ concert grand piano to the hall as several artists travel with their piano. Additionally there should be a stair-free path from the loading dock to the FOH mix position, the technical booths, and ideally to the follow spot booth. Do building plans allow for a road case and technician to go from the loading dock to the FOH mix position without passing through public gathering areas? If not, strongly consider what impact that may have on labor in/out calls because if a full stage crew has to wait for a lobby party/event to complete before a truck can be loaded, the costs could be enormous and inescapable.

Any elevators included in the equipment push path must be large and freight-capable.

Piano / Instrument Storage


The location of piano storage is an important consideration. Do you have secondary pianos for soloists to warm up on in a soundproof area backstage? If they request to warm up on the performance piano can you accommodate that without logistical problems? There should be somewhere offstage close enough to touch-up-tune the piano shortly before it gets rolled onto the stage. The piano storage room should always have the same temperature and humidity conditions as the hall.

If musicians will be allowed to store instruments in the building, plan and designate dedicated, locked storage locations for said instruments. Percussion takes up much more square footage then expected. Will you also be storing a harpsichord, celeste, and electronic keyboard and amp? A harp? Tuba? A section of double bass? Cellos? Each section should have a storage plan and location that isn’t shared with other departments as instruments are valuable and fragile.

Equipment Storage


Plan for large storage closets near the stage for music stands, musician chairs, road cases, and properties like podiums, rugs, stools, sound shields, lecterns, etc. Music stand lights and cables need dedicated storage, as well as spare lighting, video, and audio equipment. In a case where there is a larger sound and/or lighting system stored for use between larger pops/amplified concerts, the entirety of the equipment package should have dedicated storage with overflow room for unplanned needs. As a thought exercise, plan out in advance where you will keep: a ghost light, brooms, tape, towels, folding tables, coats, tools, etc. Know where you can keep & fill a mop bucket, mops and cleaners. Where do dirty mops go? You will never have enough storage - build storage that is currently unused so there is a bit of space to grow into; if the building is full on opening day imagine how badly it will be overflowing in ten years.

Backstage


The immediate backstage area should be able to accommodate most if not all performers before a concert, including padded surfaces for instruments and shelving for case storage. There should be appropriately sized restrooms quickly accessible from stage. The stage should be visible from backstage (without electronics) from both sides of backstage even if it’s simply small windows in the doors. All stage doors should hold themselves open without doorstops.

The doors separating the concert hall stage from backstage should be as soundproof as possible as conversations will inevitably happen backstage during a performance.

There should be enough room backstage to accommodate a percussion storage area near their section as they often need to switch setups between pieces.

Any pops or similar presentation will need a monitor audio engineer. In most cases the equipment for this needs to be set up stage left but in a location where the engineer and performers have direct line of sight. Will you need to prop the stage left door(s) open to accommodate this? Consider what the audience will be able to see of backstage under that condition, and plan for masking or other accommodations. Have a way for cables to go from backstage left, right, and center (at a minimum) to the stage without passing through doors or you will forever have propped-open stage doors.

The entirety of the backstage area should be easily pageable from multiple locations for personnel or stage managers to make clear announcements.

At a minimum, there should be 200 & 400 amp company switch power available backstage left and right. You will have touring equipment in use in the hall and need to accommodate.

There should be at least one performers’ lounge large enough to hold groups sized to your stage. A second smaller lounge is often required for guest performers’ hospitality needs. Both should have a refrigerator, sink, and microwave oven at minimum with storage for utensils and dinnerware.

Separate from the performers’ lounge(s) should be an additional crew lounge / changing room. Storage lockers in this location are usually needed.

Dressing rooms are in high demand for every event. There should be enough to give guest bands and soloists their own rooms (each) plus rooms for maestro, concertmaster, etc. all with a private sink and shower. Production offices are equally important for traveling groups and at least two should be available close to the stage and dressing rooms. These offices should be separate from the production offices of orchestra/house personnel which should accommodate production management, artist management, and stage management at minimum. Offices should not be shared whenever possible.

There will be a need for a laundry room with at least two washer/dryer pairs available. One should be designated for dirty mops, rags, gross things, etc. and the other(s) should be for clothing and towels only.

If the music library will be inside the building plan for a large area dedicated to that; if the library isn’t adjacent to backstage consider where the necessary auxiliary library office will be as you need your librarian available for changes with very short notice.

Warmup rooms should also be available, with consideration given to the soundproofing required for these spaces.

The immediate backstage area as well as all ancillary offices, dressing rooms, and lobby spaces will need a way to hear and view the stage. Plan for installed audio and video monitoring equipment capable of broadcasting this feed to the entirety of the building. Different coverage zones like lobby, backstage, offices, dressing rooms, etc. are necessary to accommodate different needs in those places. This feed cannot have perceptible delay or latency.

Stage


The stage itself should be large enough to host a large symphony orchestra WITH a complete guest band. Most pops concerts will add (at minimum) a drum kit, electric guitar, electric bass, and piano (often 9’ concert grand plus an electric keyboard). Make test stage layouts to see if you could accommodate a conductor surrounded by this rhythm section and still have enough room downstage center for singers, a tap dance floor, plus mics, stage monitors, and lighting.

You will do amplified pops concerts. The more onstage (ideally in-floor) microphone patch points you have available the better your stage will look for these shows. Think about the path a microphone cable would need to go from a singer downstage center to the sound console - you want that to be visually appealing and should accommodate this type of patching onstage. The same applies for plugging in music stand lights which can get ugly very quickly. You will also need audio power onstage for amplifiers, instruments, pedal boards, etc. plus utility power for vibraphones, clocks, computers, etc and dimmable power for stand lights - know where these things will plug in before you need to use them for the first time.

There should be plenty of room to roll a 9’ concert grand piano from backstage to downstage center in full view of an audience without needing to move risers, furniture, or fixtures. The path should be free from bumps and raised thresholds as they will throw off a piano’s tune quickly.

Decide in advance if you plan to allow cello and bass musicians to place their endpins directly into the stage floor or not. The floor will retain these pin marks so if this will be allowed have a floor refinishing plan established.

Built-in automated stage risers are almost always worth the initial expense. The labor costs of setting up and striking orchestral risers is enormous and time consuming, especially if a performing organization does ancillary concerts like young audience concerts, student matinees, masterclasses, etc. in the mornings and afternoons on concert days. Being able to change the stage from one format to another in two hours or less is often necessary with current programming trends.

Your stage needs to accommodate a large variety of programming. Classical Subscription Series may be the delicacy of your season but it’s probably not where you make your money. Before construction begins know how your stage will look during not only a classical performance, but pops, pops with dance, live-music film showings, chamber music, non-symphonic bands, lecturers, and even corporate meetings. The stage looks should include lighting, video, and audio equipment and where it all gets plugged in.

Stage Overhead


Concert halls do not traditionally have a classic “stagehouse” with overhead fly systems. Because of this, hanging equipment above the stage will need planning and consideration. There should be rigging points at every location you may ever need a speaker, light, movie screen, microphone, decoration, truss, curtain, supertitle screen, etc. Will you want the visuals of chain motors and cables hanging above everything you rig? If not, plan to install a chain motor power and control system somewhere above the ceiling to hide all of the motors and cables so you only see the chain hooks in the hall. A grid of general use rigging points throughout the hall, including over the audience chamber, should be included as adding a rigging point after opening will not be inexpensive or pretty. Many halls use plugs that match the ceiling to keep rigging holes sealed when not in use and this is a great way to prep for the future without much visual impact.

House / Audience Chamber


Avoid installing the minimum required number of ADA accessible seating and aim to have as accommodating of a house as possible. Symphony orchestra audiences often are not young, and the amount of accessible seating in every price tier should not be at risk of selling out. Your patrons will complain about seating comfort and accessibility much faster and with more frequency than they will complain about the balance between brass and string sections, for example. Yes, acoustics are important but not when there isn’t anyone in the audience because an organization prioritized that before their patrons. Related, have a functioning and well-thought-out Assisted Listening System and some plan for supertitles/surtitles when needed. Consider where a sign-language interpreter will sit and how they will be lit before a patron requests that. Though the topic is sometimes taboo I will add that patrons, especially in the U.S., are not overwhelmingly petite. Install comfortable seating and avoid making the seats narrower just to increase your seat count; there is a balance.

There should be at least one fast and well thought out path for someone not able to walk to get from the house to the stage. Welcoming a guest with an accessibility need to the stage should not be embarrassing for any party.

Decide now if you plan to allow beverages and/or food in the house. Modern-day audiences seem to expect it and it’s an excellent source of revenue, for what its worth. This increases the need for conveniently located trash receptacles as well as cleaning and maintenance staff. Flooring and upholstery should not be easily stainable.

Plan for a large area (8’x8’ minimum) on center dedicated to a house audio mix position. There are several circumstances where two sound boards - one for symphony and one for guest artist - will be in the house and this will be wider than 8’. Neither the engineers nor the patrons should have obstructed views of the stage. Patrons behind the mix position should be elevated above standing height. Video cameras on tripods and streaming equipment is becoming common and should also be accommodated in this house position. If the position will not be permanent be prepared to pay very close attention to when seat kills are necessary for the equipment before ticket sales begin. Especially important in a non-permanent mix position is a complete patch location somewhere that does not cross an audience egress path. There should be a safe, simple way for humans to run cables from backstage left and right to this position without crossing aisles or doorways. Ideally engineers should be able to walk from the stage to the mix position without leaving the hall. Equipment specified for use in this position should be silent as fan noise or other sounds will quickly distract patrons and lead to refunds and re-seats.

There should be centrally-located technical booths as well. You need a place for lighting designers & operators, video directors, stage managers, etc. to be able to view the performance and call cues at a normal speaking volume without disturbing patrons. As video and streaming have become commonplace there should be a video director position with full patching ability though a direct stage view may not be necessary as their eyes will be on screens. If your in-house audio mix position is temporary you will need a second audio control position in a booth with an open window for speeches, announcements, and small events. As the audio booth window will be open all equipment specified for that booth should also be silent. Booths should have cable pass-through paths connecting them all together so a cable can go from one to the next without running through a doorway.

At this point in performance technology, there would need to be an extremely compelling reason to not install variable acoustic systems. Building a hall into exactly one acoustic configuration will be conspicuously short-sighted within a year of programming. Variable acoustic systems can be as simple as curtains that store away in pockets and pulled out on their track manually to fully motorized systems that cover or reveal reflective walls with the push of a button. Do not underestimate the labor and calendar time costs you will incur without a planned, installed system to control the acoustics of your room. There are also now many astonishingly good choices in the category of electronic variable room acoustics. The hall is built as a relatively “dead” room with no need to worry about sound-absorbing curtains but when you want a huge reverberant concert hall you just recall that setting on a panel. A smaller chamber hall can be a different preset, as well as anything in between. Audio technology has reached a point where you can simply install a sound system and then recall exact, measured reverb responses from famous concert halls from around the world and you can switch between them in under 10 seconds. Potential clients can request demos if skeptical, and importantly do not let a consultant or acoustician wave this option off as inferior before experiencing the effect in person - they are serving themselves before their client.

On the topic of audio, do not underestimate the size and capability of the sound system needed to amplify a pops performer over a symphony orchestra. Modern audiences of vocal performances expect to hear the words clearly, at a minimum. Orchestras are extraordinarily loud and lifting a voice (or soloist of any kind) above their volume level will require a large professionally-designed system. “I couldn’t understand what they were saying” is one of the most repeated criticisms seen on audience response surveys, especially in concert halls. An underpowered sound system is a disservice to audiences, a waste of investment, and one of the fastest ways to keep patrons from coming back. Why buy a ticket to a show you won’t be able to understand? Collect rider data from the performers you would like to host and make sure your system meets or exceeds it.

As a performance venue, much consideration should be put into the design of both the stage lighting system and the house lighting system. The stage is the purpose of the entire building and it should be lit accordingly. Lights from every direction are needed. Lighting positions should be everywhere a performer might face. A choir loft needs its own lighting system. Moving-head lighting fixtures can be unexpectedly loud - make the volume level of the fixtures the highest priority in selection. Your inventory should not be 100% used at opening; leave room for specials, spares, and growth. Know in advance what the electrical draw of your house lights will be. It is not uncommon to press the button for house lights and immediately draw 120,000 watts or more. Just the house lights. Do you want that utility bill burden for the lifetime of the building? The potential upfront cost of more efficient fixtures can be made up for in utility savings faster than may be expected. For the sake of saying it, all lighting fixtures - and especially the house lights - should be capable of dimming smoothly. If your house requires the use of varying fixture types make sure all of those fixtures have exact matching color temperatures. Ask the electrical contractor how the bulbs/lamps in house fixtures are changed; can maintenance personnel perform a bulb change without equipment needed? Are all fixtures accessible? Maintenance is equally as important as coverage.

A location for follow-spot lighting fixtures and operators is also necessary. The spot light should be able to follow a performer to every corner of the stage - including upstage corners and up into a choir loft if present in the house. Performers love walking around the stage and up into the choir loft and they should not be plunged into darkness because your follow-spot position is obstructed.

It has been mentioned prior, but modern programming will require video projection. Projectors are loud and hot and need to be installed somewhere that solves both of those problems. Symphonies playing to live films have become hugely popular and any new hall should have a planned configuration for this. Keep in mind the speaker positions used for pops concerts may now block sightlines to a screen so you may need additional speaker locations or systems as dialogue, foley, and effects from the film will be played back via the sound system. Also consider that when playing to film, musicians will still need to see their music so the screen should not be in a position to be washed out by necessary stage lighting, and your projector should be as bright as you can get. Selling tickets to a movie event being presented on a glorified classroom projector is embarrassing.

Many symphony orchestras keep the practice of making archival recordings of each performance. If there is a current or possible need for this consider building the necessary infrastructure into the hall. Hanging microphones above a stage can be dangerous and time consuming so small motorized recording mic lines can be installed to make the process ground-based, safe, and fast. These lines should have the ability to be patched to a single location isolated acoustically from the hall. This should not be an afterthought.

A tempting architectural touch often seen in concert halls are windows to allow natural light into the hall. Unless you have an explicit need for this please skip it. Users do not open these windows and when a motorized shade malfunctions you’re left with an uncontrollable lighting situation. The money you may have put towards windows should go to performance equipment. Before considering windows, ask which performances will be comfortable with literally uncontrollable lighting conditions. Another whimsical idea is a large door of some kind to allow you to use your stage for both indoor and outdoor performances but unless your building is in a region with very similar temperature and humidity conditions to the indoors year-long you won’t be able to open that door in the summer because your building will quickly heat up and become muggy or in the winter because your building will lose its heat immediately. The HVAC systems needed to keep up with a huge door opening are immense and would only be needed for those rare open-door performances at which point the idea becomes non-feasible.

Lobby


A huge part of the patron experience happens in the lobby. Guests care a little about architecture, design, artwork, lighting, flooring and fixtures and they care a lot about ease of arrival, parking, the distance between parking and entry, the efficiency of entry/security, short wait times for elevators, concessions, and restrooms, and being able to leave en masse efficiently at the conclusion of the event. An unbelievable amount of audience surveys indicate that elevator and concession wait times ruin an otherwise good performance. Take the seating capacity of the hall and know that number of people will be simultaneously heading to the parking garage and plan to accommodate that in an efficient manner. One elevator is not enough in any location that is part of public ingress or egress. Though not the lobby, a related pinch point is parking garage exits. Hundreds of vehicles will be exiting at the exact same time and garage exits should be large, free-flowing controlled lanes with signage easy enough for the elderly to follow while driving. People will stop coming if parking is a hassle.

Public gathering spaces are now expected to security screen guests as they enter. If your security machines are assembled and disassembled for each performance plan for storage immediately adjacent to the screening area and power distributed across the floor to avoid crossing walk paths. Have multiple lanes open; lines should never keep a patron outdoors.

The lobby should have distributed audio and video monitoring of the performance, controllable by the house management personnel. If any of your performing organizations have late-seating policies, there should be monitoring available outside any house doors where patrons would be asked to wait. Signage should be easily viewable, displaying/repeating any information being delivered via audio for hearing-impaired occupants.

Any noise in the lobby, including louder events, should not interfere with a performance in the hall. Is there a place for families with young children or special needs to step out of a performance but still watch it like a cry room? At some point this will be requested so have a plan ready.

Lobby signage shapes a patron’s experience. Dedicate time to deciding how you want your hall doors labeled. Many venues have a “Door 1” on every floor which often leads guests to the correct door on the incorrect floor and is a frustrating experience. Have clear signage and try not to have more than one of any door number. Patrons should be able to find restrooms quickly without usher assistance from all common areas; restrooms are one of the top reasons a patron will be in the lobby and this reality should be prioritized.

The lobby will ultimately host events, parties, weddings, meetings, etc. Please have 200A or 400A company switch power available in your lobby in a location you would put technical equipment for those events. Do not put this power in a lobby closet, a bathroom, the gift shop, etc. as huge cables will then go from there across your party to your technical control area and you will never be able to use it.

Have planned locations for merch tables, sponsor tables, performer meet & greet, and other related items. Know where power will come from for each of these locations. Merch tables almost always have a point-of-sale checkout register of some sort; confirm you can get your POS equipment connected to the appropriate IT network from these locations as well. Can a performer get from backstage to a meet & greet location without crossing general public areas first?

Consider storage logistics. When a patron spills a drink in the busy lobby where will the mop bucket come from? Where do your bars get restocked from and will a bar cart be a navigational challenge with guests? Will you need stanchions or rope barriers to organize ingress lines? Where do those store before egress? Will you have door greeters? They will need a stool or place to sit during quieter moments as will many other FOH staff members. If the space is slated for use an event space, know where the carts of tables and chairs will store when not in use.

Will your venue offer coat check? That area should be adjacent to arrival but separated from other lines so there are clear divisions between patron groups.

Will your venue’s box office be open during normal business hours? If so, on non-performance days or mornings & afternoons you will need a way to keep box office business open to the public but the rest of your facility secured. Do you have lockable doors or dividers to isolate box office traffic from the rest of the lobby without hiring security? Patrons are very curious about venues and will walk wherever they have access.

Larger venues should seriously consider having a first-aid location available, staffed during public events.

If there’s a chance of your venue hosting school groups, do you have a plan for where a school bus would drop off students? What about 24 school busses? Where do they park during the performance?

Will you offer valet parking? If so have a planned location for valet drop-off, secure key storage, secure money storage, valet-only parking and a paved connection between there and drop-off for both vehicles and returning valet drivers. The valet station will need heating in cold climates.

Also of concern for cold-climate venues is snow & ice accumulation in the drop-off and other venue-related exterior areas. A heated-pavement arrival area will prevent accumulation completely, keep your drop-off area free of plow vehicles and equipment, and keep salt products off of your beautiful lobby floors. The same consideration should be given to garage entrances/exits and sidewalks between the lobby and parking. Building architecture should be designed in such a way that it drains water/snow away from traffic areas or that the drop-off area is completely covered. These areas also include the loading dock and stage door.


General Items



Facility-Wide


There will need to be a separate, private, dedicated stage door entrance for performers and staff. This door should be staffed, ideally 24/7. Ask each of your general contractors: Is there any equipment being installed in the building that requires 24/7 monitoring? If so (like certain fire alarm systems) is there a budget for staffing this position? If the stage door will not be staffed who is in control of building entry and exit? Who hands out keys and checks credentials? Will you require performers and staff to pass through the same security screenings as patrons and if so have you budgeted for stage door scanning machines?

Security cameras are standard items in public facilities and concert halls are no exception. Coverage is important at all exterior doors, all main entryways and screening areas, and public areas. Equally important is performer privacy; cameras should never be near/inside dressing areas and backstage video is often frowned upon. Some performers may have an issue with their performances being “recorded” by a security camera so occasionally a house seating area may have camera coverage but not the stage.

Access control is complicated and should be considered extensively. The most secure and flexible system would use a keycard at every lockable door. This system has three huge advantages: A keycard can be programmed for only the specific doors that person needs access to and if a keycard is lost it can simply be deactivated and will not be a security concern in the way a lost key is. Additionally, doors can be opened by a security manager from a central location at a scheduled time so all of your exterior and lobby doors (for example) can be locked or unlocked without someone physically walking door-to-door. In the event of an emergency this system also allows immediate control of building access. Finally, this system logs all card activity so there is a record of all travel throughout the building. If an item comes up lost from a room you will have a log of everyone who opened the door and when. These systems are quite expensive however. Using only physical keys saves upfront costs but comes with complications as well. Detailed master, sub-master, and individual key zones need to be chosen in advance. If musicians will all receive a key to practice rooms, what other doors will that key open? Do you want musicians to have access to storage rooms as well? Should the bass players have a key to the violin storage room? What key(s) will a stage manager need? Or a crew member to access booths? Your best option may be a combination of both systems with heavy-use passages keycard-controlled and low-traffic areas accessed by physical keys alone.

Communication around the building is essential. Smaller buildings may get by with individual walkie-talkie radios but most will need radio repeaters and antennas installed throughout. Have a plan in advance for not only how many radios will be needed but also how many channels will be required. Most venues need at minimum the following channels: all call, security, cleaning/custodial, engineering/maintenance, FOH, BOH, food/beverage, and parking but often there are several more. Will all of the ushers need a radio or just supervisors? Everyone on staff? How many will need earpieces so radio traffic isn’t broadcast through walkie talkie speakers? Are you obtaining and managing the required FCC licensing or will an outside company be in charge of that?

Equally important is robust wifi in every corner of the building. Robust my not be a strong enough descriptor to an IT company - this network will be in the unique situation of going from zero demand to thousands of devices and back to zero in a two hour span. Often an audience will be prompted to scan a QR code or go to a survey site and suddenly there will be 1000+ devices seeking bandwidth simultaneously. The audience/guest wifi should be an entirely separate ISP connection from your production connection. The last thing you want during a show is to lose your ability to stream or use the internet backstage when your patrons all log on. The sudden addition of 1000+ devices on your wifi/network shouldn’t impact official use. Make sure your IT department and networks are prepped for an audience. To put another emphasis on streaming - this has become very commonplace and requires a high-speed upload connection. Wired network ports will be needed anywhere you may want to stream.

A building-wide consideration often missed is cable pass-through paths. Any potential cable path should be accompanied by fire-rated pass-through holes to avoid propping doors open (and failing a Fire Marshal inspection). Most often these paths will include the connections from the stage to the FOH mix position, control booths, between booths, between backstage and the backstage hallway, between backstage and the catwalks, between the loading dock interior and exterior, and as previously mentioned between backstage and the stage proper. If you want to make a recording on your stage could a cable go from stage to the recording location? Could it go to a broadcast truck in the loading dock? Can you get signal from a microphone hanging up in the catwalk?

Will your events have staff who need to change? Often ushers, security staff, and food teams will need to change into a uniform before doors open. Will these staff members have a private room to change in with lockers to store their valuables? If not what is the plan for these needs?

Concert hall HVAC systems are complex and I will not dig deep into the considerations but instead simply mention that the HVAC should: start, operate, and stop silently. Be able to completely exchange the room air in a frequent and healthy time window. Control the temperature and humidity responsively. Most importantly it should be able to keep up with the huge variances involved with a large sudden human occupancy. You do not want the hall to raise five degrees in temperature every time you fill the house and then massively over-cool once the room is suddenly unoccupied again. Everyone in this industry knows the challenge of dozens of patrons complaining about a hall’s temperature during intermission and should put care into the design of these systems.

Technology is great and will be a huge part of every aspect of the building but it will fail. For your essential building systems, install redundancy or backup solutions alongside the main systems. This goes for everything from a secondary hot water heater to spare copper wires for the sound system. There should always be a backup way of pulling off a bare-bones show with basic sound, lighting, and staging systems in the event a primary system goes down at the worst time. The cost of installing these spare items may be less than cancelling even one show, let alone a weekend of performances.

Often during construction budgets begin to run away and early construction costs erode the later-items budget. Do not allow unexpected construction costs to steal from production equipment budgets - keep a separate fund for overages and avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul. You will not be able to operate with a shortage of lighting, staging, audio, and video equipment and capital funding for these items is extraordinarily difficult. Donors love giving towards something with a plaque and their name on it, and lights and cables are not those things. Do not compromise your production equipment - it is the entire reason this building is being constructed. Performance technology is constantly evolving and capital funding should exist to replace technical systems on a rolling basis every 6-10 years. The consequence of ignoring this is that 6-10 years after opening, all of your once-new equipment will be aging out. You will suddenly be faced with replacing every staff computer, every ticket scanner, every light, every speaker, every assisted listening device, every wifi point… you get the idea. Assume you will have to replace every piece of electronics in the building within 15 years. Without a prepared equipment replacement plan this will become financially overwhelming.

Will the hall have an organ? Pipe organs are gigantic expensive double-edged swords. On one hand, an organ really makes a concert hall complete. It’s the final big thing required to perform many famous pieces and styles of music. They’re beautiful looking and sounding. Oh the other hand have you ever owned an organ? It’s a very high-maintenance long-term relationship. First, consider that once an organ is in the hall your HVAC system will forever be required to maintain constant temperature and humidity. Your hall won’t have an unoccupied heating/cooling mode as the organ needs constant conditions. A human will need to be designated the organ conservator which may be a new paid position for the organization. Monthly check-ups and maintenance tunings are required as well as annual maintenance. Modern organs include complex electronics that should be included in your rolling 6-10 year maintenance plan. Consider where your organ console will be located in the hall - often organists will be facing away from the conductor so a video monitoring “conductor cam” needs to be installed and maintained. The camera should have the ability to be PTZ controlled from the organ console so organists can frame the shot they need per concert and the camera system cannot have latency so professional equipment is required. If the organ will be used to accompany symphony orchestra performances seriously consider a remote organ console to allow the organist the ability to play from the stage with their fellow musicians. If a remote console is out of scope for a new build, consider at least adding the capability to the installed organ so a fundraising campaign can be held for one in the future. Reach out to existing organizations maintaining a pipe organ and ask if they can raise any other red flags that may sneak up as unexpected or burdensome expenditures throughout the instrument’s lifespan.

If a new hall is being opened by an existing organization, make sure the staff don’t see major concerns with any of the plans. The staff knows the needs of the organization better than anyone and their thoughts and opinions are more valuable to your organization than those of your consultants. Your consultants won’t be the ones using this venue, your staff will. If your staff have concerns about choices being made by designers or consultants do not brush them off; these will be problems for the lifespan of your organization and the building. Once the building is opened your consultants have a new project to do and will add yours to the list on their website, no more worries. Meanwhile your staff is forever stuck with built-in problems and the associated resentment that had management listened this situation would not exist.

Closing Soap Box Speech


Speaking from the end-user perspective, I have the freedom to write a bit of an opinion piece to wrap up this document. I’m rooting for the client’s team. I’m sorry if this ruffles the feathers of architects or consultants but rest assured we users of your buildings have been dealing with your decisions for years and you might as well be reminded that your choices have permanent consequences. Here we go.

Architects design something they like, something they have always wanted to build. Sure they will tell you how their sketch draws from the natural inspiration of the surrounding land and reacts to nature and the seasons, and look a concert hall fits inside! I too have a MFA degree in design and can write up any design statement I need in 30 minutes or less. Like any artist I have a library of things I like and hold on to the ideas until I find someone to pay for them. Architects are generally concerned with how an elevator vestibule looks but aren’t very invested in how it works, how many people can pass through, or how long it takes to get there. The lobby should be grand and gorgeous regardless of what that means for the client lighting, heating, and cooling it. That is solved by them specifying electrically-dimming glass which will then be a nightmare maintenance issue for the lifespan of the building. They will extoll the virtues of this completely glass space and let the users figure out how to deal with the unmanageable acoustics; you didn’t want to be able to make an announcement in there, did you? We’ve all heard stories of architects visiting a site near completion and having a fit about the finish of door hardware or the color of lights and demand they all be changed - that’s insane unless the money is coming directly from the architecture firm. You should not need to fund the personal quirks of an architect and if it was that important they should have cared when they had a chance to make a change. You are paying them to design a building you can use the way you need to use it. Before you realize it the whole project is lost in the glamour of building a statement piece of architecture and the purpose of the building becomes secondary. You are now simply a babysitter to an architect’s child. “We’d like to put a sign up on the building to advertise shows but the architect would never allow it” is an insane situation for a building owner to be in. You will forever regret choosing form over function. I love architecture and I appreciate the beauty it adds to our world but - especially for a not-for-profit organization - it should not reduce the functionality of a concert hall and its supporting spaces. Architecture should enhance the beauty of the area it surrounds and compliment the goal of the structure, not be an obstacle or permanent maintenance expense.

“Palmer how would you feel if someone wrote that about your work?” I would give a wink and say they figured out life. Architects want someone to build their designs so they end up in magazines and win awards. Consultants want the building to function enough to open at the lowest cost to them. They make money designing and consulting on these systems, not using them. Using them, however convoluted, is the owner’s problem. Something very important to your organization may be an “it is what it is” afterthought on their end - that’s why keeping your current staff involved in the choices being made is of utmost importance. Your staff will red-flag issues your consultant may never have considered because, again, they won’t be using it.

While advocating for yourself, make sure you receive your contractually-required as-built drawings from all contractors involved on the project and do not finalize payments until then. Their job is not complete until they can provide accurate paperwork of what they installed in your building and how it was intended to function. You paid for as-built drawings and you will pay much more figuring out how your building was assembled afterwards without this vital documentation. This is a burden for the contractors and consultants and they will give you every reason in the world it can’t happen but that is their problem, read the contract. There is a current culture of “well you just won’t get those” and that needs to change. Demand better of your contractors, and by demand better I mean they should complete their contractually obligated paperwork. It is not too much to ask. If they request payment you may request a completed job. As a lifetime end-user I have been burnt continuously by inaccurate as-built drawings. Do not allow yourself to be yet another building that never got paperwork.

When everything is said and done your building should serve you and your patrons. It should not be some other firm’s display piece that you are beholden to. Your needs should come first. Your venue should function without constant workarounds. The activities and performances you do are what this entire place is being constructed for and should never be secondary to whims. Your patrons want to see and hear the performance clearly in comfortable seats with simple accessible uncrowded paths between there and the way they arrived. They want big bathrooms with short lines. They want to be able to find their seat without asking for help. They want a comfortable temperature. They want fast security screening and entry. They don’t want stairs, they want big fast elevators with short lines. This is your chance to build a venue that makes patrons say “I wish every place was like this” and all you have to do is not get lost in building a magazine cover instead of a concert hall.