Acoustical Society of America
Wallace Clement Sabine Award - 1995

A. Harold Marshall

Professor Harold Marshall is widely known for his discovery of the importance of lateral reflections in the appreciation of concert hall sound, and the subsequent application of this concept in a number of innovative concert hall designs. However, his other contributions to the field of architectural acoustics and other talents may not be so well known.

A Bachelors degree in Physics, an Honors degree in Architecture, and a Ph.D. in Engineering give us an indication of the multidisciplinary skills of this man. However, when these academic qualifications are combined with his skills as a singer, poet, and artist, all channeled with an unbridled enthusiasm, the result could be frightening to some, and awe-inspiring to others. E. J. Richards, founder of the ISVR Southampton, England, once described Harold as "that perpetual motion machine."

Harold completed his Bachelor of Architecture in 1956, clearly influenced by his father who was a Professor in Architecture at the University of Auckland, and by his mother who foresaw the importance of a double degree. After a short period in private practice and 6 years as a lecturer at the University of Auckland, he embarked on a Ph.D. at the University of Southhampton in 1966. His dissertation was a multidisciplinary treatis on "The architectural significance of reverberation". Phil Doak supervised his Ph.D. work and was extremely supportive of his research and the concepts that followed.

During this period he took the opportunity to visit a number of the major concert halls in Europe, and it was during this time that the significance of the early side wall reflections suddenly crystallized. With this realization came an explanation of why the narrow rectangular halls were so successful when so many fan-shaped halls had failed.

In Leo Beranek's words, "Professor Marshall burst onto the scene in 1967 with his concept that, for the sound of the orchestra to be full and rich and to envelop the listener, the hall should provide many sound reflections that reach the listener from lateral directions." Harold was encouraged at this point by Professor Erwin Meyer who received a draft of a "Lateral Sound" paper from this unknown New Zealander, and wrote back saying "It appears you have a new suggestion. Please come to Goettingen and discuss it with us." Thus his 1967 benchmark paper in the Journal of the Sound and Vibration titled "On the importance of room cross-section in concert halls" has been one of the most highly referenced papers in the field of concert hall acoustics.

This concept might not have attracted so much attention if Harold had not had the confidence and determination to implement his theory in the design of the Christchurch Town Hall in 1968. To provide the necessary lateral reflections in this 2700-seat oval-shaped hall, he designed 14 very large tilted reflecting surfaces inside the boundaries of the room. According to Beranek, "The result is a hall that stands among the best concert halls of the world." The Orange County Performing Arts Center's Segerstrom Hall, on which Harold was a co-consultant, is an American example of the extension of his ideas put into practice for a 3000-seat multipurpose concert hall. It also has been widely acclaimed and well received, both architecturally and acoustically.

In 1967 Harold took up a post at the University of Western Australia in Perth where he supervised a doctoral thesis by Michael Barron which quantified the subjective and objective effects of lateral reflections in concert halls. This work produced a definitive body of information for anyone designing concert halls from the ‘70's to the present.

Harold's interest in music is not just as an acoustician. He is an accomplished bass soloist, singing in various competitions, the church choir, and the Bach Cantata Society. This amateur career has been clearly supported and enhanced by Harold's wife Shirley, a piano teacher and singer in her own right. Their four boys have all gone on to become very talented musicians as well. Another passion of the Marshall family is yachting. Harold having lived most of his professional life in the two maritime cities of Perth and Auckland. Most southern hemisphere Christmases and holidays throughout the year will find Harold beating up the coast in their 32-ft. keelboat, or nestled in a little cove, exploring the many deserted islands and inlets of the north island, and even swimming with dolphins.

Most acousticians come from a predominantly technical background—the type when asked "how did you enjoy the music?" answer: I don't know, I was to busy listening to the acoustics." Others may come from an architectural background. For Harold Marshall, it is the combination of musician, physicist, architect, educator, bee-keeper, artist, poet, yachtsman, and researcher, that make him a truly remarkable individual, acoustician, and a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

Christopher W. Day
Jerald R. Hyde