The Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts, proved an instant hit with audiences, as well as architecture critics. By Regina Cole
Architects Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein of Cambridge, Massachusetts, collaborated with famed acoustician Larry Kirkegaard to produce Shalin LiuÂ’s gorgeous look and sound. Previously, Kirkegaard and Joslin worked together to design the acclaimed Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood and the Strathmore Concert Hall in Rockville, Maryland. Kirkegaard, headquartered in Chicago and Boulder, is also responsible for the acoustics at LondonÂ’s Festival Hall and the concert hall at Kuala LumpurÂ’s Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia.
Epstein designed Shalin LiuÂ’s warm, earth-toned interior. Against a backdrop of rosewood and grayed green walls, it features Douglas fir timber framing, third-story clerestory windows, and balcony railings made of Balsam fir strips woven over steel rods, the pride of an architect who is also a weaver. She lined the lower-level walls of the 43-by-86-foot shoebox-shaped hall with panels of stone, their irregular surface in service to the sound and in homage to the area.
Â“When it comes to acoustics, there is one rule: no parallel surfaces,Â” Epstein says. Â“Hard, faceted surfaces reflect sound and maintain its energy. The small pieces of stone appear to be the same size as the pieces of Cape Ann granite that we see in the distance.Â”
The view of Cape AnnÂ’s rocky shore is the venueÂ’s dramatic feature. Behind the stage, an 18-by-28-foot window looks out to sea and provides a constantly changing panorama. If the view becomes too distracting, three screens slide across the stage to curtain the window. The shutters, which repeat the wood and steel basketweave of the balconies, allow light through in scalloped beams, an echo of the waves outside.
Rockport Music, which began as the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in 1981, has grown into one of the countryÂ’s premier summer classical music venues. The new hall will host concerts year round, as well as film series and opera and theatre simulcasts. The ambitious program and the new hall would be impressive anywhere, but that it happened in Rockport, a town of fewer than 8,000, is a triumph. Key to this success is the Second Empire faÃ§ade, a replica of the 1860 mercantile Haskins Building originally on the site. Â“Rockport Music wanted to be respectful to the town,Â” Joslin explains. Â“So we built a new concert hall behind the original faÃ§ade.Â”
While some architecture critics arenÂ’t fans of the Victorian reproduction exterior, concertgoers love the familiar faÃ§ade. Once inside, it doesnÂ’t matter; every element of the new building stands in service to the music.