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Summer 1998
Royce Revived
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The auditorium presented the greatest challenge, as every change in its structure affected the acoustics and, potentially, a range of architecturally important features. The goal was to treat the auditorium as a rigid box that would communicate its strength to the rest of the building. To achieve this, nine thousand cubic feet of reinforced concrete were added. New spaces then had to be found to compensate for the loss of volume. The projection booth was pushed back five feet, and an acoustic cove (around the coffered ceiling) and gallery were added. Clerestory openings replace windows that were blocked off in the 1984 restoration.

Ronald McKay was the acoustician on both occasions, and he seized the opportunity to introduce more radical changes than he had been able to before. "For sound, a flat surface is like a mirror reflecting light -- it produces glare, he explains, pointing out the three thicknesses of terra-cotta blocks on the side walls and the pillow-like modeling of the proscenium arch, all of which now serve to scatter the sound waves. Ten different fabrics were considered for the new seats before finding one that was transparent to sound, and the carpet was replaced by a resonant hardwood floor.

The most crucial changes took place in the region high above the heads of the audience. The challenge was to achieve a reverberation time that could be shortened for the spoken word and lengthened for musical performances. For speech, gold cloth banners are lowered around three sides of the ceiling cove, and hinged fabric-covered screens fold out in the gallery; these absorbent surfaces cut the reverberation time to 1.25 seconds. To lengthen the reverberation to two seconds, the banners and screens are withdrawn, allowing the music to resonate. There is also a demountable orchestra enclosure that contains and directs the sound of a musical group, preventing it from being dispersed within the stage tower.

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