The Onassis A&L, a new temple to music in the city of the arts

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In amongst the finer things in life, those that are hardest to value are often the most sought after. For the world of the classical concert hall an exceptional acoustic can prove almost as important as the orchestra and conductor who reside there, as Sir Simon Rattle established with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). Since that momentous day in 1991 many cities have tried to emulate CBSO’s world class reputation; it seems that the recently opened Onassis House of Arts and Letters (Onassis A&L) in Athens may have achieved just that.

“I’ve never experienced a room like it,” said Thanassis Drossos. Thanassis is an audio expert of some standing in his native Greece, a man well accustomed to the vicissitudes of auditoria and not normally shaken by the quality of an acoustic. "The acoustic design is by Albere Xu (a French/Japanese acoustician) and he has done an amazing job. The diffuse sound blends beautifully.” Diffuse sound is an issue of some concern to Thanassis who heads up the Audio Project department at Telmaco S.A., the renowned Greek technology specialist and the provider of the complete media infrastructure at Onassis Theatre, sound, lights and AV. “Yet the room is not just suited to orchestral performance and opera, it’s also good for musical theatre, even rock and roll with full amplified sound, quite amazing.”

Unlike many such new venues, this project was designed and built with some speed; Telmaco first tendered in March 2010 and the building opened just ten months later. Telmaco won the tender specified by Theatre Projects Consultants and was commissioned by the Onassis Foundation that handled the project management. "As a prestige project it was clear immediately that quality was the essence. Tom Davis and Richard Borkum from TPC had specified a d&b audiotechnik installation. The eventual solution with a design updated by Telmaco, used primarily d&b audiotechnik T-Series for the main system. A left/centre/right rig which covered the room very well, and yet is quick and easy to de-rig and redeploy as a different sound design like a three layer proscenium system with centre cluster or a behind the screen LCR cinema system.”

The main concert hall has a capacity of eight hundred and eighty and is a classic shoe box design with two balconies. Elsewhere in the complex a second studio style ‘black box’ theatre without proscenium holds two hundred and twenty persons for which Telmaco fitted a d&b E-Series system. “For the main concert hall the PA system barely excites the walls,” stated Vassilis Kyriazis, Head of the Audiovisual & Lighting Department. "The physical volume of the auditorium is unusually large for such a capacity audience, with a very high ceiling. This volume, coupled with the long cross room diffusers Xu has designed, (imagine long oversize pencils across the room), allow vertical sound waves to diffuse up into the roof, while the more horizontal waves diffuse smoothly into the room. The natural reverberation is under 1.5 sec.”

Onassis A&L opened December 2010. Located close by the Acropolis, the building’s external architecture (by Architecture Studio) doesn’t attempt to compete with this classical beauty, instead the outside is clad in horizontal blinds of fine marble, producing at night a shimmering luminescence to the building and allowing glimpses of what the architect describes as the Golden Egg of its heart. Inside and out, architecturally and acoustically, it’s hard to put a value on such a place.

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