LDS Conference Center Welcomes the Faithful
Dramatic Light and Sound
For seating capacity and sheer size, the main auditorium has no peer in the world. It is seven times the size of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
The distance from the pulpit to the last row of the third tier of seats is the length of a football field. But unlike in a football stadium, people seated in the last row are able to read the facial expressions of a speaker at the pulpit, and hear him as if he is speaking directly to them. For those who do not speak English, there are 60 booths for simultaneous language translation.
A sophisticated signal delay system provides localization of the speaker's voice to the rostrum. An electronic reflected energy system creates and controls reverberation, so that the system gives a perceived shape to the auditorium that is quite independent of its physical dimensions.
While sound is amplified throughout the auditorium, certain parts of the audible spectrum are delayed in the seating areas farthest from the rostrum. While a voice can be heard with intimate clarity, the space "sounds" every bit as large as it actually is.
Lighting is used strategically throughout complex, in all public areas as well as performance spaces and on the exterior. In the main auditorium, a dimmed incandescent downlight system provides house lighting, wood grill wall panels are accented with light, and gold-leafed fiberglass sconces are lit from within. Lighting is controlled by software to respond differently to large and small events.
"The interior of this building was designed to be a grand vista with an intimate view," says S. Leonard Auerbach of the theater design firm Auerbach & Associates. "There is no visible structure."
"As a design tool for creating intimacy and good sight lines," he notes, "we applied the geometric physiognomy of the human being. We took the geometry of normal forward vision from the pulpit to make sure the full scope of the seating was in view of the presenter."
Auerbach, whose design credits include the new Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, and the Santa Fe Opera, designed a unique rostrum for the LDS Conference Center.
The 150 by 80-foot (45 by 24 -meter) structure, which is 30 feet (9 meters) tall, is designed to hold the 352-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the 158-member General Authorities of the LDS Church, but it can be dismounted and removed to accommodate large theatrical productions.
The rostrum separates into 92 modules, each weighing thousands of pounds and mounted on an air caster system. Each piece is moved offstage through pivoting walls 20 feet (6 meters) wide by 70 feet (21 meters) tall. The process is reversed to reassemble the rostrum into a seamless whole.
Slender robotic video camera pylons telescope up and down, enabling the church to broadcast live events with minimal sight line intrusion to the pulpit. Video cameras are controlled remotely from the broadcast camera control suite.
When needed to enhance visual communication, two 20 by 30-foot (6 by 9-meter) video screens drop down on either side of the rostrum.
Auerbach & Associates designed a grid system the size of half of a football field to fly scenery over the stage. It supports a host of remote-controlled rigging and hoisting elements, similar to a modern opera house.
The 911-seat proscenium theater, located in an adjacent corner of the building, is the home of the Promised Valley Players. It has a fully rigged stage house with a 75-foot- (23-meter-) high grid.
The smaller theater is also used for training and overflow worship services. Along with those in the main auditorium, its 608 dimmers are integrated with the building-wide Ethernet-based lighting control network.
The Grand Halls
Unlike the main auditorium, where structure is not expressed, the public circulation areas offered more freedom of design interpretation. They have a spare and stately neo-Georgian grace, more like a ceremonial government building than a convention center or a church.
The liberal use of steel and granite reflect the abundant natural light with solid authority. Custom metalwork and light fixtures, overscaled, custom-designed furnishings, and stone busts of former presidents lined up along the outer wall all accentuate the high ceilings and wide halls and stairways. Nooks and niches of more human scale allow for impromptu meetings and conversations.
Even the sound in the halls is tuned to stately grace. Gray did not want them to be quiet. "We wanted some reverberance to go along with the massive scale. People are then properly attuned to enter the auditorium."
Clair Enlow is a writer and architecture critic in Seattle and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.
Owner: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Architect: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership
Robert Packard III, Partner-in-Charge
Robert Frasca, FAIA, Design Partner
Associate Architect: Gillies Stransky Brems Smith Architects
Theater Consultant: Auerbach + Associates
Landscape Architect: Olin Partnership
Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers
Mechanical/Electrical: CHP & Associates
Civil Engineer: EWP Engineering
Acoustics; Jaffe Holden Scarbrough Acoustics, Inc.
Lighting: Auerbach + Glasow
Broadcast Audio/Visual: National TeleConsultants
General Contractor: Legacy Constructors