Science & Technology
Star Lecture

Art and Science of Concert Hall and Opera House Design

Robert Harris
30th March 2017, 7:00pm

This talk will describe the how the sound of Bridgewater Hall, a 2400 seat symphonic concert hall, was created. The speaker, who was the principal acoustic designer for the hall, will explain how a unique and distinctive design was developed, drawing on established concert hall forms. The tools used in the design, scale and computer modelling, will be compared with the techniques used today.

The acoustic reasons for the volume, shape, internal geometry, finishes and seat design will be explained. In addition to the technical approach, the commercial and stakeholder influences on the acoustic design will be discussed.

The hall, which weighs 22,500 tonnes, is completely isolated from the ground, with no rigid connection to the rest of the planet!  This is to avoid noise from the adjacent Metrolink system. The isolation techniques will be illustrated. 

About the Speaker

Rob Harris was born in London in 1954. He was awarded a BSc (Hons) in Physics from Warwick University in 1975. He was first a stage lighting designer and fringe theatre technical director, then a sound engineer in the West End of London and Canada, mixing major musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.


After obtaining an MSc at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at Southampton University, he then worked in acoustics, mainly in the onshore and offshore oil industries. 


In 1982, Rob returned to design for the performing arts by joining design consultancy Arup. He left Arup after 33 years as an Arup Fellow, a Director of Ove Arup & Partners and the leader of acoustics, theatre design and the Arts & Culture business in the UK, Middle East and Africa. In 2015 Rob formed Rob Harris Design Limited, providing his services as a leading international auditorium acoustic designer and theatre consultant.  His auditorium acoustic design credits include Bridgewater Hall Manchester, City Recital Hall Sydney, Glyndebourne Opera House, Bruges Concertgebouw, Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff, the Royal Opera House London, Copenhagen Opera House, Oslo Opera House, Kings Place Recital Hall London, the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin and the Kristiansand Performing Arts Centre. His most recent opening is a new rehearsal / performance hall at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. His current work includes projects for the Royal Opera and the Royal College of Music. 


Rob has researched, directed and presented on attracting new audiences to venues, the use of digital technology in the arts and a sustainable approach to performing arts centre operations. He is also a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Acoustics (he was awarded the inaugural IOA Engineering Medal in 2004) and a Member of the Society of Theatre Consultants. In 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. 


Menu for Supper

Chicken with Diane sauce with new potatoes and vegetables or goats cheese and red onion quiche (v)

Lemon tart or fresh fruit salad

N.B. the Lit & Phil office have to inform venues of catering numbers approximately 7 days before an event so please make sure you book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.