Acoustics of Multi-Use Performing Arts Centers: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Acoustics of Multi-Use Performing Arts Centers

1st Edition

By Mark Holden

CRC Press

380 pages | 41 Color Illus. | 205 B/W Illus.

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Explores the Science and Practice Of Acoustics for Arts Centers

Employing the experiences of a world-renowned acoustician celebrated for the successful design of multi-use performing arts centers, Acoustics of Multi-Use Performing Arts Centers examines the complexities of this venue and discusses the challenges and solutions that arise in the concept, design, construction and commissioning phases.

This book addresses the various programming needs of a multi-use performing arts center (needs that can range from symphony, opera and ballet to highly-amplified concerts and Broadway productions) and provides instruction from the planning of the initial concept to the final tuning stages.

While assuming a basic understanding of the principals of sound, construction and performance, the author includes architectural drawings drawn to scale and presents case studies with in-depth discussion of undocumented halls. He also provides a full chapter on tuning multi-use halls and offers an inside look at design options for adjustable acoustics that include stage, pit and hall design.

In addition, the book:

  • Covers the fundamentals of acoustics as it relates to initial stages of multi-use hall design
  • Explores the concepts of acoustics in terms of new and renovated spaces
  • Defines the basic components of the building structure
  • Examines floors, walls, ceilings, shells, and finishes and how they can be designed to achieve acoustic excellence
  • Discusses how to use and tune adjustable acoustic systems in a multi-use hall in order to achieve acoustic excellence

Designed as a step-by-step guide to achieving outstanding acoustics in multi-use performance spaces, Acoustics of Multi-Use Performing Arts Centers serves students, architects, engineers, designers and acousticians.


"The consulting profession should openly welcome Holden’s text as a significant step toward establishing “standard best practice.” It is well-recommended resource for anyone knee-deep in design, whether a student working on a design competition, or a professional chasing the next big project."

Brandon Cudequest in Journal of the Audio Engineering Society

"Finally, institutions and arts leaders have a time-tested, transparent resource which can guide them through the turbulent, mysterious waters of performance hall design and construction. This brilliant book should be in the hands of anyone invested in the successful creation of a useful, sustainable, high quality venue."

David Finckel,Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York, USA

"… a no-nonsense book written by an old salt of a practitioner. It is pedagogical and lays out the basic physical principles in an understandable way for [a] non-acoustician, for design team members and end users alike. It offers a step by step description of various areas of interest and I have especially enjoyed the idea of "myths" and the way they are deconstructed. … I am sure this book will be a welcome addition to both student and professional libraries as well as to whoever can be interested in the matter of multi-purpose halls."

—Marc Asselineau, Peutz & Associates, France

"The book is focused on multi-purpose auditoria and is passionate in how to design the building so that the audience and orchestra enjoy the performance. Practical examples abound, with emphasis on architectural design solutions…"

—Stephen Dance, London South Bank University, UK

"If you work in, design or operate systems for multipurpose venues, this might be just the book you are looking for if you want to understand a little more about those pesky acoustics that often come to plague us."

— Peter Mapp, Sound & Communications Magazine

"This book is an inspiring resource for students, architects, acousticians - anyone involved in designing and building performing arts buildings. Mark Holden's detailed insight on achieving acoustic excellence through comprehensive design and team collaboration is what our industry needs to produce successful, great sounding buildings."

—Jack P. Hagler, Schuler Shook, Theatre Planners, USA

"Intimacy is an important feature of a performance hall. It pulls the audience in and provides a direct connection with musicians. In this book, Mark Holden describes a toolbox of acoustic solutions to create intimacy in a hall no matter the programming."

—Sharon Lu, Programme Director, Cultural Management Team, The University of Hong Kong

"The Acoustics of Multi-Use Performing Arts Centers examines the scientific theory behind designing a flexible use performance hall as well as its successful application. At the Dallas City Performance Hall, Mark Holden and the Jaffe Holden team masterfully addressed the needs of multiple users and delivered a hall whose fine acoustics, adaptable to many artistic disciplines, are praised regularly by artists, audiences and even music critics!"

—Maria Munoz-Blanco, Director, City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, USA

"A long-needed book of extraordinary value for all concerned with the programming, design, construction, and most importantly, the use of performing arts facilities. This is a must-buy for the libraries of musicians, architects, engineers, consultants, and facility managers."

—William J. Cavanaugh, Past President, National Council of Acoustical Consultants, USA

"They used to say that there’s no such thing as a great multi-purpose hall. They were wrong and the Mead Theater of Dayton’s Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center is the proof. This facility is a world-class concert hall, a superb opera house, and a first-class venue for amplified Broadway shows. For organizations like the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance that produce ballet, opera, and symphonic repertoire, having a home like the Schuster Center is key to our artistic success. Mark Holden’s book shows how he accomplished this great feat!"

—Neal Gittleman, Conductor and Artistic Director, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, USA

"This book is like having an assistant at the ready to guide one through the complex and interrelated design decisions that must be considered for a successful multi-use hall."

—Noise Control Engr. Journal

Table of Contents


Making the Case for a Multi-Use Hall


Short History

The Need for Multi-Use Halls


Success Stories

The Building Block of Reverberation


Defining the Programming

Requirements for Excellent Acoustics


Reverberation Time


Clarity or C



Bass Ratio


Loudness (G)

Stage Sound

Noise and Vibration

Creating the Acoustic Program


Programming Phase

Advocate for Musicians

Programming the Stage

Orchestra Pit


HVAC and Sound Isolation

Site Noise and Vibration

Establishing Noise Isolation Criteria

Programming Background Noise Levels

Preparing the Guide


Translating Program into Bricks and Mortar


Acoustic Design in Preschematic Phase

Myths and New Halls: Schematic Design through Construction Documents


Acoustic Design Myths

Myths and Renovations: Transforming Existing Buildings into Multi-Use Halls


Transportation Noise and Vibration on Site

Predesign Project Site Inspection

Renovation Do’s and Don’ts

Myths and Misconceptions

Running the Acoustic Model


Volume Criteria

RT Calculations

Myths and Misconceptions


Orchestra Pit


Early Pits

Modern Pits

Pit Dimensions

Acoustic Treatments

Pit Rail

Pit Floor

Pit Ventilation

The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as Benchmark

Myths and Misconceptions

Acoustic Design of the Stage


The Importance of Stage Acoustics

Myths and Misconceptions

Orchestra Seating, Balconies, Boxes, and Parterres


Volume Proportions and Dimensions

Hall Configuration

Myths and Misconceptions

Wall Shaping


How Wide Should Halls Be?

Throat Walls

Side Walls

Rear Wall

Wood Walls

Drywall Walls

Masonry Walls

Concrete Walls

Myths and Misconceptions

Ceiling Designs


Acoustic Strategy

Ceiling Approaches

Myths and Misconceptions

Seats and Finishes



Floor Materials

Sound-Transparent Materials

Myths and Misconceptions


Making It Multi-Use


Manipulating Volume

Manipulating Absorption


Absorption Systems

Banner Fabric

Motors and Control Systems

Myths and Misconceptions

Electronic Architecture Systems


Technologically Sound

Early Use

EA System Components

Using EA Systems Today

Myths and Misconceptions

Tuning the Hall


Collaborative Process

Preparing for the Tuning

What to Do

Rehearsal Mode versus Performance Mode

Introducing Musicians

Tuning with a Piano

Mark Holden Journal Entry—November 9, 2011




About the Author

Mark Holden earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering at Duke University in 1978. During his time there, he participated in an acoustic study of Duke’s student union as part of a physics course. This experience came full circle when he worked on the renovation of Duke’s Baldwin Hall (explored as a case study within this text). He has lectured at Harvard’s School of Design, Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, is a member of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants, the United States Institute of Theater Technology (USITT), and an elected fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / Stagecraft