Client: Soundforms PLC

Location: Portable

Status: Completed 2012

Cost: £250,000

Structural Engineer: Malcolm Richards

Fabric Engineer: Architen with Tensys

Acoustic Engineer: Arup Acoustics

Manufacturing & Fabrication: Total Solutions & ESGroup

Research: Audialsense

Awards Won:

The Chicago Athenaeum/Europe International Architecture Award

Awards Shortlisted:

World Architecture News Performing Arts Building of the Year; World Architecture Festival Cultural Building

Soundforms is a mobile acoustic performance shell, designed to bring the indoor quality ‘acoustic’ of the concert hall platform to the outdoor stage. The acoustic within the Soundforms shell allows musicians to hear themselves, previously unknown in external fabric performance environments. As a result the quality of their performance significantly increases. The shell is designed to project the enhanced sound produced from the performers to the audience – generating a clearer, louder and reverberant acoustic.

Acoustic principles were fundamental to the development of the brief and the form of the shell. The core idea for the form came from the notion of a seashell that mythically is able to project the sound of the sea to a listener. The form is often considered one of the most beautiful in nature, and a perfect match for the acoustic principles of the design, that of a throat, that projects sound.

To develop the core acoustic brief, the team analysed 3 differing typologies of acoustic performance, and developed the structure to acoustically optimise each of the conditions. These were a string quartet, a small chamber ensemble, and a full symphony orchestra, each acoustic condition having differing requirements that required their own spatial solution. Each of these conditions were defined by a set of acoustic ratios, which specified the distances between the reflective surfaces of the inside of the shell. These geometrical ratios were distilled into UK patent application no. 2472238.

As the shell is intended for external use in a variety of locations, it has been designed to be portable, and to withstand a wide range of weather systems. This ensured that the design is both light weight, and packs into the smallest possible space for transport. The shell has an inflatable skin – designed to reduce the weight of the aluminium truss system which supports it. The structure can be erected without the need for crane-age as it unfolds like a pram lid, prior to the fabric skin being inflated. Suspended off the structure are a series of timber acoustic panels that provide the acoustic support for the performers.

Where Soundforms differs from typical architectural projects, is that at the outset there was no client, or direct revenue source for the project. The architects and conductor developed the concept and assembled a design team to develop the project as a piece of research and development. The team then became partners in the new company which realised the project, leading to the construction of a 1:1 scale working prototype.

In March 2012, the prototype was acoustically tested in London’s Docklands with players from the London Philharmonic, Nicola Benedetti, and Charlie Siem. The testing process was a great success – following which the shell was then selected by LOGOG for deployment in the Olympic Park for the 2012 London Olympic Games, where it hosted almost continuous performances for the duration of both the Olympic and Para-Olympic games.