The City of Kitchener Waterloo is a university town that has spawned many industries, including Research in Motion, the fathers of the smart phone. Its CEOs are what might be described as serial philanthropists. One of their ideas was to create a centre of learning for theoretical physics. But how do you attract the great minds of the world to a place that isn't Cambridge, Boston or Paris? Their answer was the building and its programme. The heart of which is the lecture hall - a recital hall really.
Put any group of mathematicians or physicists together and you’ll find a string quartet. Perhaps this room could attract them. The room had to serve two acoustically opposite poles. Speech and music. The architect, Gilles Saucier, did not want the curtains that traditionally cover up the architecture in a multi-purpose space for the sake of acoustics. Mr. O’Keefe took the challenge on. The solution, in the end, was simple: build a big tall room but put loudspeakers in the back of the seats to provide early sound, which meant no curtains were required to balance the difference between early and late sound. An unexpected corollary of this is that the experience in this chamber music hall sounds much more intimate than anticipated. The musicians, of course, perform without microphones. But the chit chat between various pieces, unbeknownst to the audience, is carried out by lapel microphones. They have no idea that the speech sounds are coming to them from the seat in front of them. The result is an intimate experience, both visually and acoustically.