14th & Curtis Street
Sat 10AM–2PM, Sun 10AM–1PM
Boettcher Concert Hall is the nation’s first symphony hall in the round designed to place the audience close to the stage in a unique environment.
Architect: Norman Pfeiffer, FAIA; Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates
Architectural Style: Post-modern
Year Built: 1978
Photo Restrictions: Yes
The 120,000 square foot structure stands at the west end of the Denver Performing Arts Complex. The exterior has bands of cream and brown brick, while the entrance is surrounded by glass doors. Bulges in the brick box mimic a nearby administration building and provide spaces for light and sound wells.
Hugh Hardy, the lead architect; Brian Priestman, the Denver Symphony conductor, and members of the symphony board traveled to Europe to look at concert halls and were most impressed with the in-the-round concert hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. Priestman felt this style would create a greater feeling of intimacy for the audience, bringing them closer to the stage. Boettcher was the first concert hall in the round in the United States.
The architects and the acoustician Christopher Jaffe tried to design the hall to be both acoustically and physically attractive to the audience. The emphasis in the design was on configuration and organization rather than on ornate decoration, which was typical of historic theaters. The over 2,700 seats have high wooden backs to capture the sound and direct it to the listeners’ ears. The seating sections are broken up to disperse the sound and provide easy sight lines. Multiple levels of balconies, mezzanines, and high rings circling the hall are designed in curved lines, accented with gold stripes, in order to encourage ample flow of sound. One hundred and nine Lucite discs are suspended from the ceiling to create an “acoustical canopy.” The discs span nearly six feet in diameter, and can be adjusted to help project the sound of each section of the orchestra.
The concert hall is surrounded on three sides by public spaces, each featuring massive exposed heating ducts and industrial style railings, which was an attempt on the part of the architect to create a “democratic atmosphere” in contrast to the opulent feel of many traditional halls. The spaces have been utilized in various ways since the opening of Boettcher Concert Hall. A gift shop, seating for waiting patrons, bars, a coffee bar, eating facilities, art displays, and the coat check have been shifted around within these areas over the years.
Boettcher Concert Hall has faced a variety of problems since its inception. Fund-raising was slower than anticipated, so although the groundbreaking was held on December 19, 1974, the hall did not open until March 4, 1978. Budget constraints also affected the acoustics of the interior because the materials used to construct the faces of the balconies and interior walls were too thin and did not reflect the sound expected from the design.
Time has improved the science of acoustics, especially for non-traditional concert halls, so the deficits in Boettcher have become more obvious. Some visiting conductors have praised the sound in the hall while others have complained that the musicians and conductor cannot hear each other. No reflective surface on stage contributes to this problem.
Other complaints include the dated style of the lobby, lack of a rehearsal area, inadequate storage facilities and administrative spaces, no musicians lounge, and tiny dressing rooms. These and the fact that the concert hall is rarely filled has led city planners to include plans to replace Boettcher with a smaller hall in a different location in the performing arts complex. This idea is one piece of a larger master plan that would incorporate other changes at the complex.
Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) is an internationally recognized architecture, planning, and interior design firm that was established in 1967. HHPA is particularly well known for its design of buildings for public use. The firm continues to be led by its three founding partners: Hugh Hardy, Malcolm Holzman, and Norman Pfeiffer. HHPA has created a reputation for diversity, both in the types of projects completed, and in the variety of design solutions employed, which are made in response to the needs and imagery of each project.
The firm has received more than 100 design awards, including national AIA Honor Awards in 1976, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Colorado Symphony Orchestra
The principal tenant of Boettcher Concert Hall is the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which has had its own history of difficulties. Founded as the Denver Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s, the orchestra had a number of conductors, and financial problems resulted in the dissolving of the institution in 1989. The musicians started their own musician-run orchestra and in 1990 combined with the former DSO board to create the Colorado Symphony Association. The Colorado Symphony presents a Masterworks Series, Inside the Score presentations, and concerts aimed at “geeks,” children, and the wider Denver community to celebrate holidays, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Cinco de Mayo.
Guide to Denver Architecture by Mary Voelz Chandler; Showtime: Denver’s Performing Arts Convention Center & Theatres by Thomas J. Noel and Amy B. Zimmer; Official firm profile, courtesy of Deborah Kirschner, HHPA, 2000.0616.
For more information, please visit http://artscomplex.com/Venues/BoettcherConcertHall/tabid/72/Default.aspx.