Theater Zuidplein’s multi-faceted auditorium promises perfect sound

Computer modeling was used to design the angular wall surfaces of Rotterdam’s newest theater, to ensure a perfectly even sound distribution.

Zuidplein Theater is a major new cultural venue for the Dutch city, housing two auditoriums, a restaurant and a library.

Studio RAP and Arup have teamed up to create the theater’s faceted surface

While the building was designed by the architectural firm De Zwarte Hond, experimental office RAP studio was commissioned to shape the interior of the main theater.

In collaboration with engineering company Arup, Studio RAP’s ambition was to create a wall surface design that optimizes the acoustics of the 600-seat auditorium.

Theater Zuidplein, wall area and seating in the auditorium designed by Studio RAP
Geometries are designed to optimize sound quality in each seat

Using digital technologies, they have developed an extremely versatile surface that is calculated to bounce sound evenly off different parts of the interior.

“The project was designed using algorithms, which resulted in an undulating ocean of thousands of triangles,” said Wessel van Beerendonk of Studio RAP.

Theater Zuidplein, auditorium balcony designed by Studio RAP
The configuration was developed using parametric modeling software

The design process involved simulating a wide variety of different types of performance – across theater and music – and measuring the effect of different curvatures on sound reflection.

The wall surfaces were then “digitally kneaded” using parametric modeling software, to find the best complete geometries.

Theater Zuidplein, wall area in the auditorium designed by Studio RAP
There are 6000 triangular panels in total, all made of aluminum composite

The next step was to turn this organic form into something easy to craft. This involved dividing the entire interior into about 6,000 triangles. Some of the triangles are flat, while others are bent.

“The result is an even distribution of sound throughout the auditorium, so that each member of the audience can fully enjoy the show or concert they have come to see,” Studio RAP said.

These triangles are made from composite aluminum, in a bold shade of red that gives the auditorium a distinct identity.

This is underlined by the differences in light and shadow across the panels, due to their varying orientation. The effect is further amplified by the upholstery of the seats, which is also made up of different shades of red.

Zuidplein Theater in Rotterdam by De Zwarte Hond
The Theater Zuidplein is located in the south of Rotterdam. Photo by Scagliola Brakkee

Other features of the auditorium include a versatile layout, designed to accommodate a diverse program of shows.

For events where guests are standing or dancing, it is possible to convert part of the stage into additional space for spectators. The ground floor and the balcony can also be separated with a movable wall.

Facade of the Zuidplein Theater in Rotterdam by De Zwarte Hond
The masonry facade of the building has curved recesses. Photo by Scagliola Brakkee

The Theater Zuidplein is part of Hart van Zuid, a newly developed district in the south of Rotterdam.

The main theater and the small auditorium are located on the side of the building that faces the bus and metro stations, to act as an acoustic buffer for nearby residential buildings.

Roof detail of Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam by De Zwarte Hond
The entrance is signposted by an anodized aluminum wall. Photo by Scagliola Brakkee

The building has a masonry structure, with a facade that curves outward to create a curved recess.

Here, a semi-transparent wall of anodized aluminum features a patterned surface, encouraging visitors to enter.

“By day, the semi-open facade creates a magnificent play of light inside, and at night, the facade lights up from the inside to highlight the inviting entrance,” said De Zwarte Hond.

Hall of Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam by De Zwarte Hond
The hall of the building is designed as a community space. Photo by Scagliola Brakkee

The hall of the building, with an interior design by BURO M2R, was imagined as “a lounge for Rotterdam-Zuid”.

Featuring flexible and movable furniture elements, it can be configured in different ways to accommodate various community activities.

“The high hall forms the heart of the building,” said De Zwarte Hond. “Each function is directly or indirectly linked to this space, where there is always something for people to do and discover.”

Library at Theater Zuidplein in Rotterdam by De Zwarte Hond
There is also a library in the building. Photo by Scagliola Brakkee

The auditorium of the Theater Zuidplein has been selected for the Dezeen Awards 2021 in the civic and cultural interior category.

The category winner was MuseumLab, a blasted library converted into a children’s museum in Pittsburgh.

Project credits

Client / tenant: Municipality of Rotterdam
Developer / Owner: Hart van Zuid (Ballast Nedam, Heijmans)
Architect: By Zwarte Hond
Interior design hall: BURO M2R
Design theater wall: RAP studio
Entrepreneur’s Theater Wall: Aldowa
Sound consultant theater wall: Arup
Consultant in acoustics and building physics: dGmR
Theater advisor: Amsterdam theater boards
Structural engineer: Zonneveld
Building contractor: Hart van Zuid
Services (design and production): Hart van Zuid
Process management: Municipality of Rotterdam
Users: Rotterdam Zuidplein Theater and Library

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