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Williams College – Chapin Hall

Williamstown, Massachusetts

Team

Ann Beha Associates, Architect

Project Description

Chapin Hall’s concert hall is the largest gathering space at Williams College, used for graduation and baccalaureate services and as the principal performance space for the department of music and the Berkshire Symphony. This gorgeous building by Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson opened in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1970s a series of practice rooms were inserted into the basement under the concert hall, but the main room was virtually untouched for a century.

Kirkegaard Associates worked with Ann Beha Associates and theater consultant Charles Cosler to update the hall’s technology and functionality, addressing its narrow, undersized stage, outmoded audio system, and confused acoustic (due in large part to focused reflections off the hall’s vaulted ceiling). From 2010 to 2017, the team designed and executed three renovation projects that transformed the room functionally while respecting its historic character.

The renovations added secondary glazing at the deep-set windows, both to protect the room from exterior noise and to improve clarity and support within the room. New air conditioning increased thermal comfort while reducing background noise. Reconfigured seating improved comfort, sightlines and patron circulation, and the removal of a center aisle increased clarity by changing the acoustic interaction of the floor and the vaulted ceiling. An upstage lift now provides easy access to a new storage room under the stage. A mechanized stage extension allows orchestras to set up in a standard configuration and makes changeovers from symphony concerts to high-capacity gatherings easier and quicker. A recital screen supports small performances and allows the effective depth of the stage to be adjusted.

Kirkegaard designed new audio and video systems that dramatically improve speech clarity and allow large assemblies to integrate projected images with ease. The audio system includes visually discreet concert line arrays, a custom millwork desk for audio and lighting control, and a digital mixing console.

The final renovation project added an acrylic reflector array over the orchestra, providing more even hearing conditions for onstage musicians and main floor audiences. This motorized acoustic canopy is coordinated with new lighting trusses, sprinklers and motorized recording microphones.

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