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In S.F. State arts center, a potential breakthrough for Michael Maltzan

February 24, 2011 | 11:00 am

The Los Angeles architect Michael Maltzan is known for a number of quietly forceful, thoughtfully executed small and mid-size projects, including the Inner-City Arts complex on the edge of downtown L.A.'s skid row and the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA's Hammer Museum. Many of Maltzan's larger commissions, though, including an art museum for Fresno, have stalled or fallen through. In that sense he has shared a frustration common to L.A. architects of his generation, searching in vain for the chance to take on sizable civic projects.

Thanks to San Francisco State University, Maltzan's wait on that score may be coming to an end. The university on Thursday released preliminary designs by Maltzan's firm for the $268-million Mashouf Performing Arts Center, which will include five separate performance spaces ranging in size from 60 to 1,200 seats. While the faceted, block-like geometry and bright white palette of the project will be familiar to anybody who has followed Maltzan's work, the scale won't be: At 242,000 square feet, the complex would be more than six and a half times the size of Inner-City Arts.

The acoustician on the center is Yasuhisa Toyota, who worked with Frank Gehry on Walt Disney Concert Hall and the new Miami home of the New World Symphony. (Maltzan got to know Toyota when the architect worked in Gehry's office.) A spokeswoman for S.F. State, Nan Broadbent, said that the university hopes to build the project in three phases, with 20% of the funding coming from private sources. She added that $11.7-million in donations, or roughly 70% of the private fundraising goal for the first phase, which is to include the largest of the auditoriums, has been secured. Groundbreaking is expected in December 2012.

The center is named for S.F. State alumni Manny Mashouf and Neda Nobari, who in 2007 made a $10-million gift to the university, the largest private donation in its history.

Several more renderings after the jump.

--Christopher Hawthorne






Renderings of the Mashouf Performing Arts Center, planned for the campus of San Francisco State University, courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture.

Comments () | Archives (6)

I am strongly supportive of the performing arts and SF State has very good programs in that area. But I want to know who is paying for this architectural gem. The story states that the cost is $268M and there has been a $10M donation. That leaves $258M. If this money is coming from the Cal. State budget, it seems excessive and inappropriate at this time in light of the funding crisis faced by the same university. How can I listen sympathetically to university officials bemoaning their financial plight when they turn around and build a palace?

These halls are a typical modernistic mess. It would be disorienting to look out into that hall while performing. I question the quality of the acoustical work. I have not been in one concert hall of modern design that has been an acoustic success, yet each one is proclaimed as a stunning success.

The simple truth is, no architectural styles work for classical music as well as neo-classical, beaux-arts styles. The ornamentation is needed for even dispersing of soundwaves and for visual relief as well. It is not impossible to use decoration in a modern style, yet no-one has the guts to do it. Modern halls are boring, and they sound bad. And I refer to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Avery Fisher Hall in New York, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. All of which, I believe, were designed by the same acoustician. It is a suspect profession. The best acoustics I have encountered were not even Carnegie Hall, but the loge seats in Town Hall, and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I have not been blessed to experience Symphony Hall in Boston, but as it has been widely acknowledged to have perfect acoustics, why not copy it?
This is just a waste of money, feeding the vanities of architects and "acoustical engineers." Music is art, not engineering.

The criticism of modern concert hall designs by reader S.Z. above is very doubtful, although he or she makes the useful point that the ornamentation of older concert halls have acoustical value in breaking up the path of soundwaves. Of course, visually, there's the small matter of taste, but it's simply untrue that modern halls cannot be acoustically beautiful for classical music..

Avery Fisher Hall (like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion here in LA) has long been found wanting for its acoustics, but of course the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a stunning success. The Philharmonic hall in Berlin is also considered a superb modern venue for classical music.

I am very excited to see SFSU continuing to grow and get better. This school has so many great performances and this new space will be a terrific addition.

The devil is in the details or to be more prescient in the trail of MONEY! How did Maltzan get a hook up with the Long Beach moochers who up their salary every year; vote on tuition increases to mask their legalized embezzlement of state funds and cry wolf every time the public eye focuses on their CALPERS pensions.

It's a good jackpot though. Public funds = indefinite margin of error. That alone is worth fighting for. Who cares about the acoustics; aestetics and whatever else.

Now if the moochers were smart there should be some kind of a kick back from Maltzan. Say free design on someone's retirement villa in Baja or something that can easily be hidden from the eye of the public. Now we are talking rocket science!

What a great opportunity to realize dreams of many who built the College of Creative Arts. Dr. Mckenna, importantly when the school moved from the old campus downtown, improved the faculty and the links between the various disciplines. The new facility enabled me and many students to freely move between disciplines: TV / Radio, visual arts, performing arts, music and theater. This new center seems to expand to new opportunities.

The bold look of the building from its exterior invites audiences and displays the audience to those on the outside. While I worry about the main theater's interior with it's demanding asymmetry, perhaps only those onstage will be disoriented. The whiteness of the walls hopefully will find other tones when the model becomes realized. And then certainly acoustics makes its demands.

At the opening of the Boetcher Center in Denver, where I designed and staged the opening production of Salome in the round, I sat with the acoustician on the bus to the reception following the opening. The elaborate "cloud" system he'd designed proved very problematic to use the fly gallery until totally reconfigured. In our conversations we naturally discussed the acoustics. When I questioned several items he admitted that the problematic "clouds" probably didn't matter. ALAS.

Acoustics matter, so does experimentation, access, feel and flow in the building. We hope that as this important and expensive venture moves toward completion all the right questions are addressed. The College of Creative Arts and the University needs to keep its positive position in the arts.


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