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Building With Timber to Optimise Acoustics: Gateshead Sage Concert Hall

Building With Timber to Optimise Acoustics: Gateshead Sage Concert Hall

How can timber be used to create an acoustically-perfect environment? For some clues, let’s take a look at one of the many impressive timber projects we’re delighted to have been involved with - the Sage One concert hall at the Gateshead Sage.

What was the project brief?

Intended to be used by a symphony orchestra, the goal was simple: to create an acoustically-perfect environment.

As such, the Sage One concert hall at the Gateshead Sage required a special design. Its interior was to be completely timber clad, an architectural vision taking inspiration from the renowned Wiener Musikverein in Vienna, Austria.

With a capacity of 1,640, and to seat up to 400 performers and split over three tiers, the project came with sensitive architectural, aesthetic, technical and practical considerations. Sourcing, machining and installing the timber for this concert hall was a particularly tall order.

What species of timber was used to optimise acoustics - and why?

It’s important to consider the following when choosing a subspecies of timber for optimising acoustics:

  • Aesthetics
  • Density
  • Durability
  • Machining and steam-bending properties.

American ash, known as Fraxinus americana and also sometimes known as White ash, is an ash tree native to North America. Pale in colour, straight-grained and with a consistent texture, this wood was ideal for capturing the architect’s vision. The pale yellow, uniform colour is a strong plus point in terms of reflecting the Musikverein - meaning that American ash ticked the right aesthetic boxes.

Technical considerations played a huge role the choice of American ash. Despite the subspecies’ inferior decay resistance limiting its exterior use, American ash makes up for these shortcomings with some fantastic physical properties. With favourable density, durability and machining properties, this particular type of wood is a popular choice with woodturners.

Also used for baseball bats and solid electric guitars, American ash was a perfect fit for the wood-panelled Sage One concert hall. As the concert hall’s walls and tiles were to incorporate convex curvature, American ash’s favourable steam-bending properties were highly valued.

How was the timber prepared to optimise acoustics?

  • Specially-designed and machined profiles and shapes
  • Convex curvature on walls, panels and timber battens
  • Maximum length sequence (MLS) sound diffusors

As mentioned, the Sage One concert hall was designed to be an acoustically perfect space for a symphony orchestra. To achieve these optimised conditions, the project involved the machining and profiling of a vast amount of American ash to exact thicknesses, including specially-designed specific profiles and shapes. The aim here: to ensure the hall is a low non-diffuse sound space.

Diffusion is the scattering of sound energy in an environment. By creating a low non-diffuse space, minimal sound quality is lost to those in the hall, wherever they may be seated. As such, the walls incorporate a convex curvature; along with the timber battens, this helps to diffuse high and middle frequency sound. The curvature on the many other surfaces assists the diffusion through the hall.

These otherwise-flat timber panels also contain maximum length sequence (MLS) sound diffusors - which is where the surfaces are two different depths. The varying depths on the timber panels radiate the sound waves in many directions, instead of simply causing them to bounce off as they would on a flat surface.

The Sage One was created with the intention of adapting based on demand; with three floors, its versatility is one of its biggest virtues. For it to fit this purpose, the timber ceiling panels were designed to be fully adjustable, able to move in height to suit any conference, concert or event.

And the finished project?

The Sage One, when completed, won a Wood Award for ‘Winner of the Commercial & Public Access Category’. This recognises ‘excellence in architecture and product design’ when building with wood. Although the actual Sage building itself has split opinion, everyone can agree that its concert hall is a complex and challenging feat, proving timber’s ability to step up to the mark aesthetically and practically. Quite the feat in timber-clad construction.

Video from Sage Gateshead of Sage One:

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