Creative Ceiling Solution: Alice Tully Hall
Renovations to New York City’s Alice Tully Hall, part of Lincoln Center, included adding a unique acoustical ceiling above the stage to enhance acoustics and complement interior aesthetics. The hall reopened in 2009 to wide acclaim. One of the project members was acoustician Larry King, who was working at Jaffe Holden at the time. King recently retired and we caught up with him to discuss this unique project.
YPP: What were the project goals?
King: Over years, Alice Tully Hall had become one the most heavily used venues in Lincoln Center because of its seat count and the fact it didn’t have a major constituent tying up its schedule. While it was a very flexible venue, it wasn’t really designed to do everything it was being adapted for.
One of the users’ main concerns was the amount of stagehand time required to set up and take down the various stage hardware systems, including a film screen, for different events. Catwalks above the fixed ceiling provided access to performance lighting positions and “strong points” used for rigging.
YPP: How did the tip-and-fly ceiling come about?
King: The design team recommended mechanized rigging equipment above the stage, so that stage settings could be done quickly with minimal stagehand time. A fixed ceiling above the stage became impractical, which led to an adjustable ceiling that could be either fixed or open. Since there was very little off-stage storage (and moving ceiling panels on/off the stage would take too much time), a logical solution was employing a tip-and-fly ceiling. Wenger had a ‘can-do’ attitude – they were very open to looking into options – either building from scratch or adapting existing products to meet new needs.
YPP: What were some of the ceiling’s unique criteria?
King: It couldn’t be too heavy and had to work for this particular space. The finishes on the ceiling had to be appropriate for the rest of the surrounding surfaces. That was worked out with the architecture firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, using the same Moabi wood. [The stage equipment contractor was Pook Diemont & Ohl; Fisher Dachs was the theatre consultant.]
Rather than dropping the panels down and manually rotating them, the process is motorized. The panels drop down 4’-5’ and then automatically flip. The mechanism and drive motor pull cables that rotate the panels into the vertical position. And at the touch of a button they move into the storage position. It’s all mechanized and controlled by micro-processors – it’s pretty impressive to watch.
YPP: How was the ceiling tuned?
King: Because the tip-and-fly system was motorized, we could use it to adjust the tilt and height of the panels over the stage. After three tuning events with a wide range of performers on stage, we came to a single compromise setting. It’s an acceptable tilt and height position for the panels that also accommodates certain atmospheric lighting of the stage walls requested by the architect. We wanted the ceiling system to look aesthetically pleasing and appropriate to the space. It works reasonably well and also looks good. To better suit future events, the panel setting can be easily adjusted.