The NAS Building

The Auditorium

Frederick Seitz, Academy President from 1962 to 1969, led fund-raising efforts for the 670-seat auditorium wing designed by Harrison--the final addition to the original building. Unity of exterior design was successfully accomplished in the auditorium wing aided by a reproduction of the copper cheneau on the original facade. Inside, however, the wing departs from the rest of the building in its thoroughly modern style, although the entrance from C Street maintains the green of the building color scheme in the richly variegated Verde Issogne marble floor, named for the town in Val d'Aosta, Italy, where it was quarried.

Access to the auditorium is via a foyer, paved in the same marble and paneled in walnut. The auditorium, like the Great Hall, is a surprise. The visitor, entering through the dark wood and marble of the foyer, is unprepared for the contemporary style of the auditorium. Incorporating modern concepts and acoustical techniques, the auditorium was designed primarily for oral presentations and is used extensively for scientific symposia and meetings. The hall provides an excellent setting for music as well. Music critics have pronounced the auditorium "extraordinary" and "acoustically stunning." Private concerts are held here during the Academy's annual meetings; through the Office of Exhibitions and Cultural Programs, the Academy also sponsors an annual series of free chamber music concerts for the public.

Unusual features in the auditorium's construction insulate against exterior noises. The unconventional interior of the room "in the form of a huge shell" consists of 70 adjoining diamond-shaped projections whose bases are located on a coordinate system that places them along points on cycloid-shaped curves. (A cycloid is a curve traced by a point on the circumference of a circular disc as the disc rolls along a straight line without slipping.) Although uncommon in architecture, the cycloid was used by Sir Christopher Wren in several of his exterior designs. It was chosen as the basic coordinate system in the Academy auditorium because the cycloid, with a constantly changing center of curvature, lacks a focal point; in acoustical design, focal points are to be avoided to achieve maximum sound distribution.

The diamond surfaces, formed by the intersection of 280 flat panels, differ in size, in angular position, and in the distance they project into the auditorium from the basic cycloidal curve. The shell makes no physical contact with the surrounding walls or floor, but hangs like an outsized lampshade from 1,125 resilient metal straps attached to fixed trusses above the auditorium ceiling.

The diamond-shaped panels, which were fabricated in place, are covered with metal lath, plaster, a second metal lath, and again plaster, totaling approximately 160 tons. During the construction phase, the array of panels was held in place by rigid supports, removed after the plaster had set.

Cyril M. Harris, Charles Batchelor Professor of Electrical Engineering and Architecture at Columbia University, a leading authority in the field of acoustics, designed the auditorium's acoustics. Later he performed the same function for Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Metropolitan Opera House and Avery Fisher Hall in New York City's Lincoln Center. Dr. Harris is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

The largest single gift for construction of the auditorium was provided by the Hugh L. Dryden Memorial Fund in honor of Dryden, the Academy's home secretary from 1955 to 1965. Una Hanbury's bronze portrait bust of Dryden is located in the walnut-paneled auditorium lounge, which opens off the hall's upper level. Academy art exhibits are displayed here. Other contributions came from the Sloan Foundation, industry, government agencies, private donors, and Academy resources.

The Academy's archives are housed on the east side of the auditorium wing with a separate area equipped with constant temperature-humidity control devices for preservation purposes. The archives contain the corporate records of the Academy and a unique record of the history of science in the United States. Office suites occupy other space atop the auditorium wing.

Read More:

... A Temple of Science  Recognition of Need  The Architect  The Setting and the Grounds  Description of the Building  The Façade  The Window Panels  The Doors  The Main Foyer and the Great Hall  The Library and the Members' Room  The Lecture Room and the Board Room  The Wings  The Auditorium  The Albert Einstein Memorial

Photo by Shonna Valeska

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