Sala São Paulo Unused Train Station Renewal
by Damian Doria | November 14, 2010
I can’t imagine a better symphonic work that could have been chosen by John Neschling for the gala opening of Sala São Paulo than Mahler’s Resurrection. This wonderful concert space was created in the shell of a mostly unused train station atrium, giving a completely new life to the building and the neighborhood where it’s sited. Mahler’s theme of hope for renewal, expanded from Klopstock’s hymn, is a fitting parallel to this concert hall’s juxtaposition of historically significant architectural elements with new purpose and modern acoustic flexibility for the Symphonic Orchestra of the State of São Paulo.
We were fortunate to find an existing space of such desirable proportions to work with, but its age and lack of original documentation made the adaptation of the circa1938 atrium challenging. At the same time, it was also a heritage protected structure and as we wanted to add multiple levels of seating and include ledges or boxes along the the side wall and adjacent to the platform, as well as add two rear balconies, we had to work very closely with the authorities in developing solutions that were acceptable. The idea of using a multi-part moving ceiling, making use of the extra cubage available above, rather than along the sides of the main volume, was a natural extension of Artec’s past use of acoustic canopies and partially coupled chambers, though admittedly still a novel innovation. And we were happy that this concept was particularly well received by the historic preservation reviewers, as it allowed the original cornices, columns and stained glass windows to be viewed by the audience depending on how the acoustics were adjusted. In this sense, I think Nelson (Dupré) did a fantastic job overall in this adaptive-reuse, giving new life to this historic structure, and the revitalization of this part of São Paulo. And it was no small miracle that the architects and surveyors undertook a massive effort to document the as-built condition of the building -- its geometry, structural capacity and historically significant details. Miraculously, the initial Artec survey, design and construction was completed in roughly three years, from 1996 through opening in 1999.
I am gratified that the hall has been well received, both architecturally and acoustically, receiving kudos from Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim, David Foster, John Neschling and others. In an interview on NPR’s Talk of The Nation the late Russ Johnson called Sala São Paulo his favorite hall. Those of us who knew and worked with Russ appreciate how rare it was for him to single out any of his “children” as favorite. It’s clear to me, though, why this combination of classic architecture, great acoustics, and magnificent resident and guest musical artists would stand out among our family of halls.