The University of Wisconsin’s new Hamel Music Center is a cornerstone of the University’s east campus development plan. It showcases the university’s commitment to creating beautiful, usable spaces for all students.
The new world-class music center, which includes a concert hall, recital hall, and large rehearsal room, occupies one of the most publicly visible—and busiest—corners of the campus. The design and construction of the building had to accommodate the tight jobsite and busy intersection while delivering a soundproof design that could silence the traffic just outside the doors.
Those challenges led designers to a precast concrete design. They knew precast concrete had the versatility to create an aesthetically pleasing structure while addressing noise concerns. “The warmth of the precast concrete echoes the limestone of other historic and iconic campus buildings, while its material properties provide superior acoustic control and visual effect,” says Jacob Ziomek, senior architectural designer for Strang.
Folded facade evokes theater curtains
Precast concrete was used to create an acoustic shell to provide isolation from the noisy exterior. This was achieved by using a box-within-a-box concept for the recital hall and rehearsal space, where multiple layers of walls with 8-in.-thick precast panels form a shell for the primary exterior layer.
The panels were strategically shaped and sloped in different directions, leaning in or out by 2 degrees to further deflect sound. “The forming and erecting were a challenge with the 2-degree slope,” says Jim Miller, senior project manager for International Concrete Products.
To ease assembly, the supplier created a computer-aided design layout that provided the bottom profile and top corner points of each panel. This saved time by eliminating layout from the piece drawings. “The use of BIM [building information modeling] help solve many challenges,” Miller says.
This approach allowed the rehearsal hall to meet a noise criteria of NC 25, which is equivalent to a private office, and the recital hall to reach NC 15, which is equivalent to a recording studio—despite the constant buzz of people and vehicles.
On the exterior, a unique facade was created to embody Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quote, “Architecture is frozen music.” It features precast concrete panels folded into faceted forms to “resemble a stage curtain, with folds, texture, and shadows,” Ziomek says.
The deep folds were achieved by rotating panels horizontally and tilting them forward and backward vertically. This allowed the panels to be staggered, with one end in front of the previous panel, and the other end behind the next. Texture was created using a combination of exposed aggregate material, and a custom fluted profile used for every other panel face.
The designers used the concrete mixture specification, combined with the slopes of the panel tops (some of which rose above the rooftops) and the joint treatment between panels, to celebrate the raw beauty of the precast concrete material and unique panel shapes. “The folds and texture result in unique and ever-changing shadows as the sun moves,” Ziomek says.
The use of precast concrete also enabled rapid construction with minimal disruption, and contractors were thus able to accelerate their timelines. The total erection took less than three months. The project is currently pursuing LEED certification, and most of the points being sought for that certification come from the project’s integration into the dense campus and downtown core.