The design of Benaroya Hall accommodates two performing halls in a complex that is thoroughly integrated into downtown Seattle. Occupying an entire city block at the very core of the city, the development celebrates the vital role of performance events while maintaining the continuity of commercial life along one avenue and providing a much-needed public space, in the form of a terraced garden, along another.
The rectangular form of the 2,479-seat S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium and the circular Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby that surrounds it are at the center of the site. The cylindrical volume of the lobby sets it apart from the rectilinear forms of surrounding buildings. Enclosed in a series of subtly articulated bay windows, the lobby affords outstanding views from its several levels, including Puget Sound, the Seattle Art Museum and the towers of the city's skyline. At night, its surfaces of clear and frosted glass give the effect of a giant lantern illuminating the streetscape. Along Third Avenue, a block-long glass-enclosed arcade, The Boeing Company Gallery, which has entrances from three streets, links the building's various components, offering access to the lobbies of the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium and Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, the Ticket Office, shops, Davids & Co. (powered by Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes Catering and Events), Starbucks, an underground garage and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The Boeing Company Gallery opens weekdays regardless of whether or not there is a performance, so that the space not only serves as the outer lobby on concert nights, but also becomes a part of the city's streetscape and retail activity during the day.
Inside the rectangular S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, architecture and acoustical considerations are melded into a seamless aesthetic experience. Dark wood colors on the hall's enclosing surfaces, with ivory tones on its inner layer of balcony fronts, coffered ceiling panels and the stage enclosure, give the room a feeling of intimacy, closely connecting each member of the audience to the stage, visually and acoustically. The seating arrangement was carefully studied to provide excellent sight lines. For example, the rake on the main orchestra level is as steep as possible while still being safe and comfortable. This optimizes sight lines, while enhancing the intimate connection to the stage. The box seating along the side walls is oriented toward the stage, contrasting with other rectangular concert halls which often orient this seating across the room to the opposing wall. The height of the proscenium is also emphasized, to achieve the desired effect of intimacy with the audience. The lighting reinforces the effect as well, so that the audience feels closely connected to the stage and performers.
The hall's traditional shape, defined by massive wood and plaster surfaces, is faceted and coffered to provide excellent acoustics and diffuse sound effectively. Orchestral performances require long reverberation times, which require surfaces that are heavy and dense to reflect sound and absorb as little as possible. The wood paneling on the walls is subdivided into smaller panels, each one a different size so that each one resonates with a different frequency of sound. The arrangement of how those panels are put together, the subdivisions of those panels and the fasteners of those subdivisions are all expressed in the way the wood paneling is detailed. The result is that the physics of the acoustical design becomes an important part of the architectural design. In addition, distractions in the form of airborne sounds or earthly rumbles from surrounding streets, the transit tunnel, or the railroad tunnel below the site have been eliminated by building the hall as a box within a box, with the inner concrete box completely supported on rubber pads.
The 536-seat Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall has been created as a space that is complementary to the principal 2,479-seat auditorium, providing an elegant venue for performances by smaller ensembles and solo artists. It gives community-based organizations the opportunity to present concerts in a relatively inexpensive and acoustically excellent venue. The Recital Hall occupies the north end of the site and is related in its design expression to the main auditorium. The Recital Hall's acoustics are created by sculptural shapes that diffuse sound: folded planes with triangular surfaces that surround the performers and audience. The stage house and stage floor are of cherry wood, providing a visually and acoustically warm environment for the performers.