Studio Bell: Architecture that makes music
Commissioned by Canada's National
Music Centre as part of an ambitious vision to create a world-class
exhibition of musical innovation and technology, Studio Bell is a new landmark building for Calgary that's designed to resonate with its audiences – literally. We headed to East Village to see (and hear) it for ourselves.
Architectural design work for the CAD $191 million, 160,000 sq ft (14,864 sq m) facility was
awarded to Allied Works Architecture following an international
competition. The firm worked in collaboration with a team of
consultants including award-winning acoustic specialists Jaffe
As the home of Canada's National Music Centre, Studio Bell is more than a museum. It houses five floors of exhibition space, radio broadcast facilities, acoustic and electronic recording laboratories and a 300-seat performance space. There's over 400 artifacts and objects from the National Music Centre's impressive collection, spanning over 450 years of music technology and innovation. Notable among them is TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra), one of the largest multi-timbral polyphonic analog synthesizers in the world, which was used to record albums by Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers in the 1970s. It's also home to the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio (RSM) which was used to record albums by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, as well as the Stones.
The building itself rises over two city blocks, using nine interlocking towers as its key anchor points. It features a pedestrian walkway elevated 65 ft (19.8 m) above a busy roadway below and a dramatic entryway that opens up into a five-story space that follows the contours and curves of the building's exterior. These acoustical "canyons" are designed echo the form and acoustical function found within musical instruments.
"The building is ﬁlled with the reverberation of voices and music, drawing visitors up into ﬁve ﬂoors of performance, exhibit, and collections spaces," syas Brad Cloepﬁl, Principal, Allied Works Architecture. "The building is a powerful instrument that exists to emanate music and light. The walls, clad in terra cotta, rise in subtle curves that merge, part, and intertwine, modeled by light, gravity, and acoustics."
Cloepfil is referring to the 220,000 glazed terra cotta tiles that provide much of the acoustic and aesthetic success of the building. Both the interior and exterior walls are clad with the specially-commissioned tiles, with spacing and placement determined through computer modeling.
"We tried several scenarios where we created slots between the tiles of various distances and filled the cavities with various depths of fiberglass sound absorbing batting," explains Russ Cooper, Principal, Acoustics for Jaffe Holden. "Our goal was to attenuate sound by half if possible at all frequencies from the lobby to the top gallery. In order to achieve this we needed to have a low frequency slot absorbing system, similar to a Helmholtz resonator. This meant a smaller slot opening and a thick insulation. For mid and high frequency absorption, the opening between tiles is greater and the insulation thinner."
The design team was also challenged to incorporate and revitalize the historic King Edward Hotel, one of Calgary's oldest buildings and a legendary Blues club that occupied part of the development site. The Eddy's brick façade was meticulously disassembled, each brick numbered, then restored and resurrected as a local live music venue. The hotel also houses one of NMC's key artifacts, the aforementioned Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio, which is currently undergoing restoration before being made available for use by musicians taking part in the NMC's Artist-in-Residence program in 2017.
Studio Bell opened its doors to the public in July, and the finishing touches are due to be completed in October. If you don't happen to be traveling to Alberta anytime soon, take a quick tour of this intriguing building in our photo gallery.