Madison, Wis., is the state capital and a bucolic college town, famous for its architectural history, beautiful lakeside settings, and the active campus of the University of Wisconsin. One of the latest additions to the university is the Mead Witter School of Music’s Hamel Music Center. The new center, which includes a 650-seat concert hall, a 330-seat recital hall, and a large rehearsal room, is a significant component of the university’s east campus development plan.
When planning for the new center, the designers had to take into account the many challenges of building a world-class music center in the heart of a busy and crowded urban setting. Those challenges led them to a precast concrete design solution.
Precast concrete appealed to designers because it is durable and flexible, and because it provides unique opportunities to create a dramatic exterior effect. The precast concrete design helped maximize the footprint of the site while minimizing concerns about traffic noise and vibrations that could compromise the precise acoustic needs of the building's multiple performance spaces.
The building design, both inside and out, was driven by the acoustic goals at the heart of the project. The most striking exterior feature of the new music center is the folded precast concrete facade of the exterior walls. The accordion design mimics a curtain frozen in time and provides the mass and form needed for ideal acoustic isolation of the building’s interior from the noise of the busy streets outside.
The deep folds of the “curtain” were achieved by rotating panels horizontally and tilting them forward and backward vertically. This allowed the panels to be staggered, each with one end in front of the previous panel and the other end behind the next. As a result, traditional sealant joints were concealed between panels. The texture was created using a combination of exposed aggregate material and a custom fluted profile on every other panel face.
Double-wall construction ensured no traffic noise would affect performances, while also allowing for opportunities to strategically incorporate natural daylighting at the top of the recital hall volume. Using this strategy, the designers were able to locate the Collins Recital Hall prominently at the front of the facility, rather than burying it at the core.
The recital and rehearsal halls were designed as a box-within-a-box concept, using 8-in.-thick precast concrete panels to minimize the impact of outside sounds and vibrations. The panels were strategically shaped and sloped in different directions, leaning in or out by 2 degrees to further deflect sound.
To ease assembly, the supplier created computer-aided-design layout points that provided the bottom profile and top corner points of the panels. This saved time by eliminating layout from the piece drawings. Lasers and 2 in. shims were used to rapidly set the panels in place.
Along with meeting acoustic and aesthetic goals, the use of precast concrete brought practical advantages to the busy jobsite. The new center is located at the eastern gateway to the university, one of the most publicly visible corners of the campus. This gateway is active with traffic for most of the day, and the use of precast concrete was essential to ensuring rapid construction with minimal disruption to the community.
The project is currently pursuing LEED certification, and most of the points supporting this effort reflect the project’s integration into the dense campus and downtown surroundings.