San Francisco House of Music Fall 2016-Thesis Exploration

"A House Divided"

The design competition for the San Francisco House of Music was a vehicle for exploring conceptual ideas within the context of an architectural design


As a student of architecture with an interest in acoustics, I wonder: " Why does the manufacturer of acoustic treatment seem to have more impact on design than the architects?" This sparked the desire to explore finding the balance between acoustic performance and quality design.

Contemplate how these two conditions are different

One uses additive materials post- architecture, while the other responds to acoustics naturally with materiality

An Elemental Approach

An open window is considered a perfect absorber due to the fact the sound leaves, and doesn't come back. Can we think of air in a more technical sense to improve acoustics?

Water is a perfect reflector as a surface of a pond or lake. Could this inform architecture? Is a thin sheet of falling water still reflective??

Earth is a known insulator thermally and acoustically in mass. Could stone be used to be highly reflective in one spot, highly diffusive in another spot, and highly absorptive elsewhere? How can earth be organize to manipulate sound?

Thinking about Form

Architecturally BUSY vs Architectural LEGIBILITY

In concert halls, all too often do wall treatments and color palettes get out of hand. Other times the obsession for perfect reflections result in an army of angular surfaces. Simplifying the form has the ability to bring focus to the subject of focus, and the materiality of the space supporting . In order to emphasize the manipulation of natural materials, the form must be legible and avoid the temptation of becoming too busy.

Sketches of the architectural repercussions of the concept

Design of a Concert Space

Early form study models
One major takeaway from this model was the idea of separation between the audience and the wall plane. A gap or reveal will emphasize the wall as a standalone object, and call attention to it's materiality. I also explored an open floor to accommodate more modern music types and concert styles, as well as an operable roof to open to the sky to think about that idea of air as a perfect absorber when needed.

Simplifying the Geometry

The space has now become rectangular, and closer to shoebox-hall dimensions. The stadium-style seating is still present, and the idea of materiality starts to come into play.

The balcony is still too deep, and the hall may work well for rock concerts but may not be the best for a school of Music. (will surely remember the design for the future though!

The seperation of the wall plane from the floor and audience has made it past another iteration. The move is here to stay folks!

At this point, more research occured to see exactly what type of venues San Francisco already had, and whether It was worth duplicating ideas or striving for something unique

There is a concert hall, symphony hall, and theater. It is not the typologies I took tips from, but the different ideas of circulation from within these projects which was the most helpful
If a balcony was floating without being attached to the back wall, how could it be detailed to appear so?
how to "hide"or finish such a composite idea cleanly
I looked into the concept of the venue promoting spaces that respond to the different types of spectators

An acoustic problem that may occur with this balcony is known as an "acoustic shadow," which is quite literally represented by the light shadow seen in this image

This iteration simplified the overall geometry into a taller space, and featuring a dramatic floating tier contrasting the subtractive balcony on the side walls


The site is located within the historic Golden Gate Park

One can tell this park was designed with Olmsted ideals in mind from the picturesque curves and trails, to the man-made lakes, to the bridges

The site is also neighbors with the De Young Museum by Herzog & De Meuron as well as the Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano

The site is a blank-slate of sorts. The only constraints seem to be the road, and the treeline

The initial diagram for the House of Music
While I had been working from the inside out, the interior had been fairy developed while the exterior and organization of masses had been neglected. This resulted in a quick attempt of an additive architecture, which did not produce beautiful results. However, the ideas of enclosure was explored, testing the idea of ribbon windows that could open to become an absorber. Was it worth the possible sound pollution??

I modeled the space in CATT acoustics to determine ideal geometry, test different material properties, and hit performance criteria

All that attention to the inside had hurt development of the design as a whole, needing attention on the exterior.

The interior still aimed for architectural legibility so the materials could stand out and had started to achieve that

Complete 180 on original idea of site

Rather than a House standing alone in the landscape, I found the program was able to separate from eachother and the house became divded.

Performance Block- Many technical requirements including loading dock, back of house, circulation for exits, and large lobby.

Education Block- The program called for 10 classrooms of any size or type. These can be separate from the performance block, while still including rehearsal spaces within itself.

Cafe & Cavea- Taking advantage of the climate, and outdoor Cavea (or amphitheater) could tie together these splintered building blocks. Another typology that brings people together are amenities, such as a cafe for cocktails or food during intermissions or recitals.

Role of Site- With this thinking, the site becomes a program in itself. The park, inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted really embraces the picturesque. This site is currently a large lawn, so why not preserve that lawn? The trees towards the back of site and slope of the topography lend itself to having a curvy, picturesque movement to it. While the cafe and Cavea bring the two major blocks together, the site treatment is the glue.

a flow of topography, and Gabion retaining walls

The Performance Block- a massive stone block within a lightweight glass block

Education Block- some practice rooms on display to the public while others like the ground floor rehearsal space remain solid

The outdoor stage and the cafe, with the cafe being "buried" underneath the lawn and the stage sitting at the bottom of a amphitheater.

Design Development & Production

The site plan, showcasing the relationships between the divided program at ground level as well as preserving the lawn
Site section which celebrates the lawn and hides the circulation below, in the spirit of Olmsted

Education Block & Entry

Classrooms & cafe greet the pedestrian while the cavea hides & the concert hall peeks over the lawn
Education Block

Performance Block

The heavy box within the light box acts as a display case for the House of Music
Performance Block
The Concert Hall

The acoustic idea behind the space involves the Earth portion of the Thesis- Gabion Wall : a steel cage full of many reflective surfaces (stone, ect.)but all randomly arranged within the basket. The stage end could have a more dense gabion, while the back end could have a less dense gabion, allowing sound to diffuse and pass through to an absorptive material. Thus using acoustics to determine how the material can fine tune a space, and architecture to showcase it.

Site & Cavea


The gabion retaining walls hold the earth back in some instances, and standalone in other instances. The North half of the site is developed in terms of pathways and circulation, while the back half upon the hill remains informal and wild. The inspiration of the site took the design to another level it could not have reached if not for it.

Lessons learned

* While gabion walls as an interior face may be an interesting and dramatic idea, the details of the section would need to be resolved regarding air quality, and cleaning. Perhaps the gabion are not true 1-meter gabion, and become something more of a surface with a concrete mass behind it.

* The site was resolved in this subtractive method, but it could potentially be more continuous in section. Rather than the circulation being at ground level cutting through, perhaps the lawn could have bridged all the way over the cavea, and become the stage enclosure itself. This idea will be explored!

* Develop the Water wall idea into a space. While the waterwall was being testing and designed during this competition, it did not come to fruition (or atleast the level of trust) by the time the project was developed. The water wall does indeed work, so how could it be incorporated? I can see it playing a role outdoors moreso than indoors, especially with the concept of outdoor acoustics.

The San Fransisco House of Music by Aaron Kanapesky
Created By
Aaron Kanapesky

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