The city of Porto is the home of Port wine, FC Porto futbol, and other Portuguese icons for which it was named the European Capital of Culture in 2001. Whatever else that means/doesn’t means, this title gave Porto an excellent excuse to build cool things, like the Casa da Musica performance and teaching center. The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas won the design of the music hall, perhaps because of his decision to make it a really fun place.
Walking in, I was immediately conscious of being in a funky geometric shape that plays with height and orientation of space. The high polished of its concrete floor and walls, combined with strategically placed lighting panels create a lightness that gives even the stairs up to the ticket desk energy. The first level is desgined to immerse visitors in a culture of appreciation and experimentation. On one side of the ticket desk is a pool of computers decked out with music recording programs for visitors to play with, create beats, mix entire pieces, and think about sound… on the other side, visitors can see musicians prepping for their performances in rehearsal rooms through a series of glazed panels.
The second level is home to the main auditorium (one of two) which apparently has the world’s second best acoustics. Every detail of the hall, down to the fabric of the seats, is designed to keep sound waves from bouncing back. Keeping with the idea that the hall should make performers, and their music accessible to visitors, the second level of the auditorium has glass panels so that people walking around the building can see down into the orchestra. Glass is generally not used by designs worried about acoustic fiedility because it doesn’t absorb sound like the usual suspects of wood or carpet. The use of curved glass provides a smart solution to this problem, and also looks pretty cool.
The most imaginative part of the building was one floor up, in an area designated for the entertainment of children while their parents attend the concert in the main auditorium. The first room, completely in orange, provides a space for kids to be more active, while the second is intended to be calming in all purple. The music being performed downstairs is piped up, along with activities to teach kids about the music they are hearing. Another pool of computers floats between the two rooms, where visitors can create rhythms that project to the entire hallway.
Casa de Musica was completed 4 years late, and at the cost of roughly 100 million euros. But it breathes such life into its surrounding area, few are seriously complaining.