An architect, a theater consultant and an acoustician walked into a bar.
Just kidding. They did walk into the Fifth Street School on March 9, though, along with a sizable crowd of performing arts enthusiasts. The Smith Center, due to open in 2012, was the golden child of the evening. Project CEO Myron Martin was joined by architect David Schwartz, theater consultant Joshua Dachs and acoustician Paul Scarbrough for an installment in the Symphony Park Lecture Series dedicated entirely to the new arts center.
“I think we really did come up with something that really does speak to Las Vegas,” Schwartz said. He spoke of the multiple international trips that he and the rest of the design team made to find inspiration for the Smith Center. Schwartz finally came back to Hoover Dam for inspiration. “There is nothing, or almost nothing, that someone hasn’t already done,” he said. “It’s a much better place to begin than anything on the Strip.”
Pure aesthetics aren’t the only considerations being made by the design team. “”These spaces are all about bringing people together to share special moments,” Dachs, the theater consultant, said. “If a room can’t quite help do that, it has failed. It’s actually literally shaping the room to accommodate the performances that will take place onstage.”
Martin concurred. “[It's an opportunity] to give people in our community not only the chance to build something, but to build something special,” he said.
The three panelists were charismatic and the information they gleefully doled out was fascinating. How do you insulate a concert hall against the sounds of a nearby railroad? Well, you stick it on a three-foot slab of concrete, Scarbrough said. Oh, and there’s another foot-thick slab in the ceiling for the same purpose. No big deal.
The Smith Center will include two buildings and three separate performances spaces. It will be the first LEED-certified performing arts center of its size. The exterior of the building will be sided in Indiana limestone, the same off-white substance used for the capital building. Each star dressing room has a window to the outside, ensuring natural light. The seating in the hall will follow a “stacked” design so each seat isn’t excessively far from the stage. For balconies, this necessitates a special warped construction that still optimizes acoustics and sight-lines for the upper levels. Sound-reflective surfaces selected explicitly for this purpose will exemplify audial quality as well.
Other concessions had to be made based on the unique environment of Las Vegas. The ideal humidity for a concert hall, for example, is about 40 percent. However, as Scarbough pointed out, intentionally injecting Vegas air with that much moisture would create a dank, unappealing feel for patrons. Instead, designers restricted absorptive surfaces in the hall and installed an automated door system that can “bleed” sound off should the need arise.
It’s really difficult not to be excited about something like this. Having a space designed to attract artists of exceptional quality is an incredibly positive step, and not just for the sake of entertainment. Betsy Fretwell, the city manager of Las Vegas, spoke briefly about the connection between the Smith Center and the continual efforts to revitalize the downtown precinct of the city.
“A lot of people really don’t realize that redevelopment is job creation,” she said. “That really means economic development, jobs and value for our community. Symphony Park is already changing the skyline of downtown.”