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Published 26 November 2013

2013 Pickering Medal: How do you design the perfect concert hall?

Designing concert hall acoustics has been the lifelong work of Emeritus Professor Sir Harold Marshall FRSNZ, the 2013 winner of the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Pickering Medal for the application of technology.

Sir Harold Marshall is known world-wide as one of the most innovative acoustical designers of the 20th and 21st centuries.  

When he began his career, it was thought a space could be designed for sound clarity or optimal reverberation, but not both. When Sir Harold Marshall worked with architects Warren and Mahoney on the design for the Christchurch Town Hall in 1972, his innovative techniques allowed both early sound (clarity) and later sound (reverberation) to be optimised independently of each other, allowing for a space with both excellent sound clarity and reverberation.  His methods have been hugely influential in the design of multiple-use auditoriums worldwide, recognised as the preferred approach for concert hall design.

To further control the clarity of sound, asymmetry in acoustical design has been explored by Sir Harold Marshall over the past thirty years. Asymmetric designs can provide the desired clarity for each seat in a concert hall.  

Through his work in world-leading company Marshall Day Acoustics (which he co-founded in 1981) he has been involved in the design of numerous concert halls worldwide.  Notable successes include the Orange County Centre for the Performing Arts, California, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the Guangzhou Opera House, and most recently the Philharmonie de Paris (which is currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2014).

Sir Harold Marshall was formerly Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland and Head of the Acoustics Research Centre. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1994 and was knighted in 2009 for services to acoustical science.

Full citation:

2013 Pickering Medal

To Arthur Harold Marshall

In recognition of his innovative research-based acoustical designs for concert halls and the profound effect these designs have had on the design of performance spaces for music, worldwide.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi