Taking Measures

Brief Critiques of High-Tech Designs


Strathmore: Off to a Sound Beginning


So, just how good is the Music Center at Strathmore—the gleamingly handsome, dazzlingly ambitious, 1,976-seat auditorium just off Rockville Pike that opened its doors this month?


Very good indeed, on the preliminary evidence of the first concert, a gala program featuring the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Yuri Temirkanov. Indeed, from where I was sitting (on an aisle in the middle of the orchestra level) it sounded as though this may turn out to be the best place to hear symphonic music that the Washington area has ever known.

Many would argue that this is faint praise—neither the Kennedy Center Concert Hall nor its predecessor, DAR Constitution Hall, has been known for its brilliant acoustics. So let me add that the sound at the Music Center at Strathmore would seem to have presence, luster and clarity, with an unusually rich bass response. Indeed, the lower strings, whether played solo (cellist Yo-Yo Ma was the evening’s name soloist) or in aggregate, seemed to emanate from the walls, the floor, the air itself, with a luscious, trembling immediacy that you could feel in your bones.

Until the last selection, Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” high notes were less impressive, sounding somewhat constrained. But Strathmore is equipped with adjustable acoustic panels and canopies, which were duly brought into play over the course of the evening. By the finale, the proper setting was achieved, and the bite and brilliance of the stratospheric brass fanfares in the Shostakovich were startling. Moreover, one could actually hear all that was going on in this complicated music.

There will be time to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the Music Center at Strathmore at length. How will it sound on a night when not every seat is filled? (The mere presence of lots of bodies can have an enormous effect on a hall’s acoustics.) How will it respond to amplified music? To solo recitals? We shall find out. One thing is already certain, however: Musical life in the nation’s capital region just got a lot better.


LeMay Museum Is Anything But Square



Most architects, Alan Grant says, are confused when confronted by structures that are “curved and natural.”


But that’s what people involved with the Harold E. LeMay Museum wanted.


“There’s almost a religious dialogue between architects: Make things square, make things modern,” said the Los Angeles-based architect. He compared today’s architectural dogma to the use of Latin in Renaissance Europe: “When people spoke it, it proved you were educated.”

It was only after presenting three square proposals for the LeMay car museum that Grant finally found his curve. Something that captured the essence of an automobile.

“It clicked on me,” Grant said. “The design of automobiles is really beautiful, sensual, curved, really beautiful. You could do it implied, and not literally. It could be sculptural, but it could still be referential.”

Grant returned to his office in Los Angeles and set his staff to the task of not only going outside the box, but tossing the box out the window.

“I remember when they came back to me. They showed me one version - it just jumped out. It was just perfect, the right proportion, the right shape. There was never any doubt.”

The proposed design, he said, possesses “somewhat of a timeless feel. People refer to it as a 1943 such-and-such, or a Stingray, or a prototype car. To me, it clearly felt like an automobile, but I couldn’t put a time on it.

The News Tribune Tacoma, WA

B&O’s Funky Flagship Stalls Short

When David Lewis, the top designer at Bang & Olufsen, unveiled the latest incarnation of the company’s Beo line, he secured another room in design heaven for the Danish audio giant. His Beo Lab 5 speakers are spacey and avant-garde, blending art and technology in delicious tandem. Listening to music with them might be life-enhancing; I bet owning B&O’s self-optimising audio technology - which takes acoustic readings of your environment - must give you uncontrollable, smiley shivers. Lewis’s designs inflict shock and awe.

So when B&O opened a flagship showroom in London, we took a stroll in to see what the company had to say in the retail innovation department. Not much, it seems.

B&O could do a lot, lot better than its new compact glass box of a store that lets in the traffic noise of Brompton Road. Apparently, the store was designed by an in-house team, with Lewis and Italy’s Elica creating a kitchen area for displaying products in situ. It beggars belief to think that designs of such impressive quality could be sold in these cramped conditions, when they have the potential to transport you into a parallel physical plane.

Though the upstairs of the shop is used to display the B&O product in a contemporary, domestic scenario with kitchen props and shelving, it’s only the magic of the audio and visual demonstrations that distracts your attention from the paucity of the space. The two listening rooms are the only treats for customers, who can briefly sit in imagined luxury for a few seconds to sample the goods before being rudely distracted by someone walking up the stairs.

Downstairs, the retail design simply fails. The product is just not given room to breathe. If neighboring B&B Italia can create a slick, meandering gallery of a store for its furniture pieces, surely B&O should be thinking about flattering its own products in a similar environment. Why couldn’t these breathtaking designs have been given a budget worthy of their design achievement?

Design Week