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  • Where Catharsis is at Stake

    Kodály Centre, Pécs

    Architects: Ferenc Keller, Richárd Hőnich, Benedek Sólyom, Tamás Fialovszky
    Text: Attila László
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    Pécs has more than deserved its concert hall: although it could be the European Cultural Capital for just one year, the city remains one of the most important cultural centres of Hungary after 2010 as it has always been. The fact that this building could be built here makes musicians and audience cheer and jubilate.

    Actually there are no right angles in the concert hall of the new Kodály Centre, probably due to acoustic reasons. Planes intersect one another at obtuse angles. This consistent formal solution is visible all over the building, e.g. on the roof, the facade, or behind it, in the exposed „concert hall box”, as well as on the flooring of the foyer, where the slightly slanting planes evoke the playfulness of music played in the house. It was well worth launching the concept like this, as the acoustics of the hall is wonderful! Maxim Vengerov conducted the first public playing-in concert, after which he said: „this hall is the Stradivari of architecture”. Beyond spatial formation there are the chairs designed especially for this auditorium with special regard to acoustics as their sound-absorbing faculties imitate the same qualities of the human body so that sounding is just the same with a full house or with vacant seats in the concert hall. There are no identical components in the panelling on the walls of the concert hall – which is of course a positive fact in this case –, and each of them produce a different sound. One of them is layered, the other is solid, whilst the flutings carved into them are also of different design, much in the same way as their relation to the wall reveals a unique tuning.

    Why is it so important to adjust a room to acoustics? Because catharsis is at stake here. Fine reverberation makes music and our souls fly, but if there is too much of it, music itself is not accessible enough. However, when it is too little, sounding becomes „deaf”. The essence is that whatever is encoded in fine pieces of music should be available to listeners. If it does not work so, we cannot experience the elevating thrill.

    This kind of meticulous care is welcome, as designers prioritized the standard of acoustics when planning the concert hall. As a result, the very essence of music came into focus. Sounding has been tested with two different softwares. András Kotschy acoustic executioner and Anders Cristian Gade Danish sound engineer modelled and compared it with the parametres of the top 100 concert halls. It turned out that only minor adjustments were needed whilst construction such as the design of the materials used for panelling.

    Going to concerts is an experience also in other respects: concert venues are also the podium of communal interaction. The foyer, the communication units, open and closed spaces are suitable for conversations on various topics, even more sophisticated ones than those of everyday life. Pécs is especially appropriate for this purpose as people love concerts here. In the region it is Graz and Zagreb that have concert centres of this scale, and we are justified to suppose that high-standard events will attract visitors from Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. The circle of its attraction has a radius of 150 kilometres,covering an area inhabited by 2,2 million people in four countries.

    On entering the concert hall we are impressed by the serious and elegant spectacle of the brownish reddish alder panelling. To use a simile borrowed from music: it is a concert hall in Bb minor. The palette and tones of musical hangszínek can give us a similar impression. It is probably Bb minor which has such a warm touch. The red seats are deliberately varied in shade to break the monotony of the claret-coloured carpet. The designer of MÜPA (Palace of Arts) had the same motive when choosing the colouring for the birchwood panelling.
    The dimensions of the hall are ideal: it is not a gigantic one but suitable for large concerts with a seating capacity of 999 people. Besides concerts to be held here it shall be the venue of a large number of performances – jazz, world music, pop music –, which require room amplification to achieve the appropriate effect. The presently used Turbo Sound hifi system is fine for high-standard amplification, but of course much depends on the sensitivity of sound engineers who would treat the appr. 2.0-2.2 second „idle speed” reverberation. It is amazing to see how things correlate here: the building is in Balokány Liget and thus had to be built on longer piles than originally planned because of the water coming here from the Tettye spring which made execution more expensive. For this reason two compromises had to be made: the installation of sound-absorbing curtains behind the auditorium of the large auditorium and the video studio was temporarily cancelled. It is possible to use curtains behind the podium now dugring concerts that require this kind of technology.

    Kodály Centre is officially named as a Conference and Concert Hall. Businesswise the conference function is a priority. Concerts are not expected to be always profitable, thus this kind of symbiosis seems to be a fine solution to at least partly secure the financial background of operation and maintenance. Designers have generous ideas in mind: a certain part of the auditorium can be sunk, and by retracting the rows of seats a large expanse of flat flooring can be used. This must be useful when conferences are held here also making it a potential venue for balls. The interior area of 11,500 m2 is utilized as a „house within the house”. As the railway is only 100 metres from here and road No. 6 is also near, soundproofing must be perfect. The large concert hall is seated on a system of piles, plinth and double flooring. It is only to the north where there is no puffer corridor, which makes sound insulation even more effective as this is the area of audience traffic. A ten-storey building could be inserted in between the lowest part of the cellar and the cupola. Visitors to concerts can use the smaller parking lot right next to the house as well as the one by the nearby Knowledge Centre. The institution is part of Zsolnay Centre with an arera of 78,000 m2 so some of the functions could be shared within the complex among its units.

    There are also two halls with a seating capacity of 300 people. One of them can be divided into two to be suited for holding minor concerts and rehearsals. One can have a view of the rehearsal room of the Pannon Symphonic Orchestra from above through the glass windows of an interior corridor: it appears quite a cosy nest. In case the modern light technology system „freezes” it only takes 2 seconds to shift for the spare system. The recording room is definitely small, even if the venues of recording and post-production can be opened with the Etersound system. Uniquely high-standard concerts are expected to be held here. Post-production also deserves suitable rooms for the sound engineer, music director, conductor and producer. Speaking of the lack of space, I have to mention I had the feeling in the corridor of the offices that it is less spacious than it should be, which is probably due to some kind of constraint. In the multi-functional hall it is possible to create an orchestra pit and sink the piano into the stage. Also the place for the would-be Angster organ of Pécs has been prepared.

    I could have started this article with the location of the building. This site was basically defined by its relationship with the Zsolnai Centre and the Knowledge Centre. The characteristic design of the house is interesting in itself and it did not actually ambition to get tuned to the versatility of its environment (defined by road No. 6, a department store etc.) It is better this way. The spiral line traceable from above focusses on the concert hall, about which much has already been written. The form carries an analogy interesting for me: it refers to the concert itself, which concentrates within a relatively short time, including moments that move people deep in their heart. Listeners get prepared for this experience, get washed, dress out, and go. Musicians try their best presenting what the composer encoded in the piece of music to be performed, and all this is summarized in the concert itself. Preparation is thus the spiral culminating in the concert as the focus. A concert hall is suitable for creating an atmosphere in which preparation and expectation can have a meaning.

    The building in Pécs does it very well. It is homogeneous, integral and concentrated. The foyer is cheerful, light, a suitable overture for entry into the large banqueting hall. The polygonal shape of the ’skin’ of the concert hall is quite an exciting spectacle from the outside through the vast expanse of the glass surface. The airy design of the open-air stage outside the main entrance is a fine idea, and shall hopefully inspire a wide variety of performances. Only a relatively small area has been developed from the exterior open-closed space joining the building from the outside, but this function may serve very well during the intervals of programmes. A slanting terrace joins the roof of the structure which is a nice place for the audience to relax, refresh themselves and have a chat. Roller skaters, daring bikers may also have visions associated with it but I would warn them as it is only a glass railing that separates us from the depth at the bottom of the slope.

    The building contractor – Magyar Építő Zrt.–Arcadom Zrt. group – has apparently done a high-standard job here and the building was completed in 1 year and 4 months which is a genuine salto mortale. From now on the question is how to operate it the most efficiently. The rate of concerts and conferences was estimated appr. 50-50%, and many clients have already registered for the latter. The Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra of Pécs shall give 50 concerts per year as residents. The proportion of music programmes to be organized here is expected to be appr. 60-40% divided between classical and other genres.

    Design: Építész Stúdió Kft.
    Architects: Tamás Fialovszky, Richárd Hőnich, Ferenc Keller, Benedek Sólyom
    Fellow architects: Gergő Menyhárt, Annamária M. Guzmics, Tamás Fenes
    Interior design: László Rádóczy (f), Zsolt Tolnai
    Acoustics: Éva Arató-Borsi, Zsuzsa Alabárdos, László Nagy
    Acoustic consultant: Anders Christian Gade (Dánia)
    Noise prevention: Gusztáv Józsa
    Stage installation: Lőrinc Strack, András Gebei†
    Structure: Gábor Becker, Richárd Reisch, Balázs Takács
    Frame structures: András Nagy, Balázs Marót
    Installations: Zoárd Mangel, Attila Kerék
    Electrical engineering: Gábor Kun, Tibor Komlósi, Ferenc Németi
    Environment: Sándor Mohácsi, Borbála Gyüre
    Construction planning: Mérték Építész Stúdió
    Main contractor: Magyar Építő Zrt.–Arcadom Zrt.

    Construction planning of the Kodály Centre:

    Constuction planning: László Fábián, István Vámossy, Rita Terbe, Tamás Baranya, Zalán Reviczky, Péter Archibald Bodola – Mérték Építészeti Stúdió Kft.
    Statics: Gyula Gecsényi, Róbert Gecsényi, Gellért Lakos, Zoltán Zóka-Újváry – Dinám Kft.
    Groundwork: Árpád Petik – Petik és Társai Kft.
    Installation: László Kolarovszky, Tibor Gáspár, András Domina, Zoltán Kiss – Kőrös Conzult Kft.
    Electrical engineering: Zoltán Üveges, Ferenc Kelemen – Kelevill-FZ Kft.
    Acoustics: András Kotschy, Anders Christian Gade
    Fire service: Sándor Venczel – Ven-Guard Kft.
    Structure: Richárd Reisch, Sándor Rákosa – FRT Raszter
    Stage: Zsuzsa Tompai, István Tompai, Sándor Veres – Bosch-REXROTH Kft.
    Environment: Gábor Szabó, Csenge Csontos, Borbála Gyüre – TÉR-TERV Kft.
    Utility: Erzsébet Bruckner – Pécsi Mélyépítő Iroda Kft.