Performing Arts Centers – Sometimes It’s What You Don’t See and Hear That Makes the Show

Performing Arts

Performing arts centers (PAC’s) present unique opportunities and challenges for owners, operators, designers and contractors alike. They are a unique mix of specialized systems with very specific performance requirements that need to meet the needs of a wide constituency. Whether the PAC serves a sole purpose such as a concert hall or multiple purposes with a variety of uses, integration of the building systems and architecture is critical to its success. Some of these systems include:


Understanding how each space is going to be used is critical to its design. Speech and musical events have both common and unique acoustic requirements. These requirements affect the structure of the building and resulting systems. Considerations such as reflection of sound to the audience, background noise, reverberation, sound clarity and intelligibly are all impacted by the physical construction of the facility. These characteristics can be adaptable through the use of sound reflecting or absorbing surfaces which may or may not be adjustable.


The HVAC system must effectively and efficiently condition the facility without creating audible noise within the space. This can be accomplished through proper unit and fan selections, slow moving air distribution, low return air and potentially low supply air systems and sound attenuation. Noise generating equipment should be isolated from program spaces. If equipment cannot be located away from sound sensitive areas, special heavier construction techniques may have to be employed. All of these constraints must be balanced to create the best cost/benefit solution.


Thoughtful design and construction of lighting and power distribution systems are integral to the success of any PAC. Theatrical and house lighting must be coordinated with the use and physical geometry of the facility in order to meet performance goals and code requirements. These systems must also be maintained by the facility owners/operators. Consideration should be given to access to all lighting within a space. Consideration should also be given to the power infrastructure necessary to provide the desired system capabilities. Transformers and dimming racks/rooms should be isolated from sound sensitive spaces.

Holistic design and integration of the architecture and building systems with the program are essential to a cost effective, efficient and successful PAC. If you need assistance in understanding some of these considerations or have questions regarding your existing or planned facility, please do not hesitate to contact Michael Rader, P.E. at (717) 845-7654 or

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