A Theater and an Instrument: The Acoustics of Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center

Discovering The Smith Center

 

You will likely never forget the first time you sat in Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center and heard music swell throughout the cavernous space.

And every inch of the 2,050-seat theater — spanning the domed ceiling, the lavish curtain and the gleaming floors — is designed to support and carry sound to each audience member in acoustic magic.

“The theater is truly an instrument itself,” says center architect David Schwarz.

 

The Sound of Silence

To present spine-tingling performances in Reynolds Hall, The Smith Center’s designers and acousticians knew what they had to achieve first.

Silence.

<>In other words, they designed the expansive theater to ensure that no sound sneaks in from outside its walls.

That’s easier said than done.

A hurricane of noise surrounds the theater, with the roar of passing trains and cars by the center’s downtown campus, zooming planes and helicopters from the airport, and the hubbub of conversation from the center’s Grand Lobby.

The theater blocks all of this out with layers of noise-canceling material. It lies cocooned in concrete, including a 36-inch concrete sub-basement. Its roof also contains a 12-inch slab of concrete, layered over an air gap and another 10 inches of interior, sound-muting material.

“Even the huge air conditioning ducts are technical achievements, providing massive air flow with virtually no noise,” architect Schwarz says.

 

More Than Meets the Eye

You might not realize it, but when you go to a performance in Reynolds Hall, everything you see around you — including the seats, the floor and the ceiling panels — impacts what you hear.

Every kind of texture reflects, absorbs and enhances sound in different ways. That’s why achieving well-balanced sound in Reynolds Hall proved a painstaking task for the designers and acousticians.

“Every surface in the hall has been carefully studied,” Schwarz says.

They picked terrazzo stone floors instead of carpeting, which would have dampened sounds. The seats and the curtain are covered with mohair, which reflects and enhances sound better than other materials.

The theater’s textured ceiling panels, which portray a design of the sun’s rays, break up and distribute sound throughout the room. The balconies are sloped downward and stepped, which bounces sound back toward the performers, to help them maintain syncopation.

The curved shape of the grand light fixture topping the ceiling — designed to provide a chandelier’s effect, without blocking sightlines — further enhances the diffusion of sound.

A proscenium grille near the stage also contains a drape that can be used to adjust acoustics to accommodate the size, instruments and stylings of performers on stage. Absorptive draperies hang on the rear and side walls of the auditorium, which can be raised or lowered mechanically to help reflect and project sound evenly for various performances.

Even the very shape and volume of the room contributes to how sound carries.
Detailed scale models and computer software helped the design team fashion a layout to optimally balance empty space and absorptive surfaces.

“All of the acoustical aspects of the project are on the cutting edge,” Schwarz says.
Regardless of where audience members sit in Reynolds Hall, they all benefit from these acoustic innovations.

“It was very important that (Reynolds Hall) be an iconic building that symbolized the aspirations of the Las Vegas community, a world-class performance venue as judged equally by patrons and performers,” Schwarz says.

 

The Road to Reopening

Due to public health and safety guidelines during the pandemic, The Smith Center has cancelled or postponed over 350 performances totaling more than $20 million in lost revenue.

As a nonprofit, The Smith Center needs community support now more than ever.

To help open The Smith Center’s doors again, click here to support our Road to Reopening Fund.