The SFJAZZ Center

by George Petersen
in Installations

The SFJAZZ Center is slated to open in January 2013.Construction is underway with a four-month countdown to a grand opening on Jan. 21, 2013 (Martin Luther King Day) of the SFJAZZ Center, a new performance venue in the heart of San Francisco. Located at 205 Franklin St., the $63 million center is envisioned as a LEED-certified hub of art, music, culture and community in the Civic Center performing arts district, already home to Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Opera House, the Herbst Theatre and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Funding is from private sources, led by an anonymous gift of $25 million — the largest ever given to a jazz institution. SFJAZZ has now raised $55M of the $63 million for the project. 

The three-story, 35,000-square-foot space will include the Robert N. Miner Auditorium, which can expand from 350 to 700 seats. There’s also an 80-seat multi-purpose ensemble room, rehearsal spaces, digital learning lab, café at sidewalk level, ground floor lobby, retail shop, box office and SFJAZZ administrative offices.

The Design Team

The SFJAZZ Center was designed by noted architect Mark Cavagnero, acoustician Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics, theater designer Len Auerbach and constructed by lead contractor Hathaway/Dinwiddie. 

Cavagnero, of Mark Cavagnero Associates, was also involved with other Bay Area projects including the Oakland Museum, the Headlands Center for the Arts (Sausalito), Community School for Music and Arts at Finn Center (Palo Alto), Durant Hall at University of California Berkeley and San Francisco projects at the ODC Theater and the deYoung Museum.

Top-end consultant Len Auerbach, of Auerbach + Associates has more than 30 years of experience with hundreds of theatre and facility projects, including working on the Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Hayden Planetarium, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall and a host more.

Located in Hollywood, New York and Mumbai, SIA Acoustics is well-known for its design, consultancy and acoustical services. Past projects include performance halls, stadiums, recording facilities and broadcast centers including the Hollywood Bowl, The Pearl at the Palms Concert Theater (Las Vegas), Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore), The Healing Place Church (Baton Rouge) and New York’s Rose Hall/Jazz at Lincoln Center, among many others. Company founder/principal Berkow is also the original developer of the SIA-SMAART system, an industry-standard tool for acoustical measurement and sound system optimization.

The main Robert N. Miner Auditorium is adjustable from 350 to 700 seats and is configured for performances in the round.The Acoustics

The SFJAZZ hall presented a number of challenges for the design team. SFJAZZ has an ambitious program, including a wide range of presentation types in the main hall, small ensemble works in the Ensemble room and educational activities in the Education center. While the program for the facility is large, the site itself is limited, and that creates challenges for the team.

SIA Acoustics worked with the team to define a room shape and finish selection that will provide both a tonally balanced listening space for the SFJAZZ audience and comfortable and supportive stage for the performers. (See interior rendering.) The room was also designed to support high-resolution live recording.

A prominent acoustical feature in the main Robert N. Miner Auditorium is the 24-by-12-foot acoustical canopy that will hang above the stage. Constructed of steel tubing, the canopy will support more than 50 sound-scattering elements. The canopy is also designed to create a responsive and supportive stage environment for acoustic instruments and to help project the sound into the audience.

SFJAZZ Center floor planJazz music encompasses a wide range of performance types, so the stage acoustics have a variable acoustical element, allowing additional absorption to be deployed for performances with louder stage volumes. The room is designed to allow both amplified and purely acoustical performances (such as solo piano), so in addition to optimizing the room acoustics and soundproofing from the outside world, SIA Acoustics worked with the architects and engineers to reduce HVAC noise levels to an absolute minimum, making the space suitably as quiet as possible.

Addressing all of these concerns, including venue-to-venue sound isolation (such as controlling ambient noise transfer from the practice rooms to the main hall or ensemble room), low noise in each venue due to air conditioning and creating an appropriate acoustical environment for each room meant the team had to work together to achieve room configurations and finishes that worked both acoustically and visually.

The Sound System

The sound system will cover every seat with Meyer Sound’s MINA small-format line array technology, which was chosen after listening to many loudspeakers, according to Berkow, who was particulalry impressed with its high frequency sound. Each MINA includes two 6.5-inch cone drivers and one 3-inch compression driver mounted on an acoustical manifold, coupled to a low-distortion, 100-degree horizontal, constant directivity horn. The high frequency system, which Meyer calls REM (Ribbon EMulation technology), is designed to minimize HF distortion output from each box and the array as a whole.

Another important aspect of the sound system is the use of cardioid subwoofer arrays. “The use of directional subwoofer arrays really helps to create a stage environment where players can hear each other without the common splash of low bass energy,” Berkow says. “Subs that splash the stage with off-axis energy can often muddy the stage acoustics, making it harder for musicians to hear and interact with each other acoustically. The use of cardioid arrays addresses this problem and will help make a cleaner sounding stage, where only minimal monitoring will be required.”

The “how-small-can-you-make-it?” factor also came into play. The architecture team liked the fact that in using the compact MINA system, the line array would be in scale with the room and not intrude so much on the visual space.

On the console side, SIA Acoustics has recommended the Avid VENUE Profile. This console is both easy to use, programmable and supports direct recording to Pro Tools, thus satisfying another key requirement on the facility’s wish list.

The SFJAZZ opening may be just a few months, away, but Berkow is optimistic about the success of the project. “We approached the design of the acoustics and the technical systems from three points of view: What is best for the audience; what is best for the performers, and lastly, what is best for the production teams in the building,” he explains. “By working to understand and address the needs of these three groups — all critical to the success of the facility — we tried to create a space that makes everyone (audience, performers and production) feel welcome and free to create amazing experiences.”

Yesterday and Today

In the fall of 1983, SFJAZZ, then known as Jazz In The City, presented two concerts at the Herbst Theatre with a simple idea: offer the best of jazz music in an environment that showcases the full spectrum and artistry of the art form. Thirty years later, the SFJAZZ Center will open just two blocks from the site of the first concerts.

SFJAZZ also commissioned three murals be installed in the SFJAZZ Center’s upstairs lobby and green room. The murals, which will be hand-painted by artists Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet on ceramic tiles, are titled “Jazz and the Nation,” “Jazz and the City,” and “Jazz and the Afterlife.”  The tiles will then be glazed and fired for a permanent, glossy finish.

The premiere concert at the SFJAZZ Center, on Jan. 23, 2013, will be a musical extravaganza with McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, master of ceremonies Bill Cosby and many more special guests.

“After 30 years of presenting music in a variety of rented venues throughout the San Francisco Bay area, it is with great joy we announce our first season in our new home, the SFJAZZ Center,” says Randall Kline, the founder and executive artistic director of SFJAZZ. “The Center is the first free-standing building for jazz in the country — designed, from concept to concert hall, to create an enhanced setting for creating and experiencing what the esteemed jazz writer Whitney Balliett calls ‘the sound of surprise.’”

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