External view of the PAC at night; External view of the PAC at night;

Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe, Arizona

2008 SEAOSC Engineering Excellence 'Outstanding' Award

The architects of this state-of-the-art performing arts facility took their design cues from the landscape and the Native American precedents of the American Southwest. Arup’s team contributed the concepts and technologies to make the design work in a stark desert climate and amid a bustling and rapidly growing city.

The facility comprises three distinct performing spaces, clustered around a main lobby plaza, with the entire complex standing beneath a multi-faceted roof. It lies on the flight path of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, making sound isolation critical in the construction of the building envelope and roof.

Arup’s scope of work included structural and full building services engineering (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), as well as acoustic, audio, and electroacoustic enhancement systems design.

The firm’s multidisciplinary design process looks at the nexus of aesthetic, environmental and technical concerns and balances them as necessary. At Tempe, this process meant resolving significant acoustics issues for the performance spaces. The venues host acoustically diverse events, from full orchestras to quieter spoken word performances, and needed to be acoustically isolated from the noise of jet aircraft crossing overhead every 90 seconds. These requirements were met within budget and in a manner that supported the facility’s innovative architecture.

Arup defines aural architecture as “finding opportunities in the expression of aesthetics and acoustics to enhance and expand the success of both.” At Tempe, this process included integrating sound isolation requirements with the design and materials of the roof and using electronic architecture to create flexible acoustics in the main theatre.

Multi-use performance spaces are typically designed to be large enough to provide the extended reverberation time best suited for music. Moveable banners and drapes are then used to create acoustics better suited for smaller performances. For Tempe’s main theatre, Arup turned this arrangement on its head.