Today and tomorrow are the fourth in the Mississippi Architect series, an on-going effort to reprint (with permission of course) the monthly journal of the Mississippi AIA, published originally from March 1963 through March 1965.
In today’s edition, we can almost hear editor Bob Henry thinking “Be careful what you wish for” as he responds to a very forceful woman with strong opinions about how band halls should be designed. In response, Henry did what I would do, he turned the matter over to someone else to answer, in this case Jackson architect Harry Haas. Haas graduated from Tulane’s School of Architecture, served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, and post-war, established a long partnership with Robert C. Jones, Jones & Haas. In addition to several important Modernist schools in Jackson and other cities in the state, Jones & Haas were responsible for several structures at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, including the colorful original version of the Coliseum (1961-62).
“Blowing A Horn Is Hot Work”
Mississippi Architect has suggested previously that readers make comments or ask questions on any subject relating to architecture. We have had an interesting letter regarding band rooms worthy of a detailed answer. Mrs. L. A. Ogletree, Route 2, Box 470, Crystal Springs, Miss., has written:
At a club meeting recently I heard a statement that astonished me: that architects don’t know how to build in effective sound conditioning. The worst part is, it is more or less true. I have had two band members for the past six years, followed the band on trips to various schools and colleges, and have suffered through the horrible echoing and clatter of sound in numerous practice rooms and auditoriums.
I have viewed the “fine new band room” with “plenty of big windows” (the worst acoustic defect possible–letting in outside noises, if open; vibrating if closed, unless hung with heavy velvet draperies).
Band practice rooms should be close to stage size, so the pupils can be arranged approximately as they will be on stage. A strange instrument playing next to a nervous pupil can throw him completely off-key.
They need completely adequate artificial lighting. It’s hard enough to read the small notes necessary for attaching to instruments without straining to see by the sunshine and shadows of daylight. And lots of band work is carried out at night.
They need noiseless air conditioning. Band programs start two to three weeks before the regular school session, and in the deep South the heat is dibilitating [sic]. Blowing a horn is hot work. Try it. (No heat pumps, please! They are N.G.)
They don’t need fancy porticos. They need a shelter that students and instruments can get into or under until the band instructor arrives with the key to the band room. They need wide doors so that students can enter and egress two or three abreast, carrying large horns and drums. No center posts–they cause traffic jams.
Restrooms were a great problem wherever we went. Schools were closed and no band rooms provided facilities. Some few schools had restrooms under the stadium–too few!
Adequate instrument storage, uniform and practice rooms are necessities.
Of course an architect wants his brain child to be pretty. But in the case of band rooms, it’s pretty is as pretty does. Spend as much as possible on necessities and let simply dignity of exterior hold the cost down.
I am not an architect–I’m just a taxpayer and mother. My band student will graduate in June. The other is at State and chemistry majors have no time for band. It is for the good of future generations I’m praying. I hope you do not consider me unduly presumptuous.
To answer Mrs. Ogletree’s questions, Mississippi Architect called on Harry Haas, a Jackson architect. Mr. Haas was a member of his high school and college bands and is presently director of a church choir and a male chorus. His reply follows:
First let me thank you for taking the time and trouble to set on paper what has obviously been a “sore subject” with you; your sincerity and concern are evident.
The faults with you enumerate can be attributed, with few exceptions, to the lack of funds which would be required to do the better job. In the case of most secondary schools the only funds available to the school district are allocations by the State Educational Finance Commission, and these are computed by a formula based on average daily attendance, with a maximum of $7.50 per square foot. Consequently Mississippi is as usual way below most other states in amounts spent for school construction per square foot, per pupil, per classroom, and per most other criteria. The architect receives compensation for his services as a fee based on percentage of construction cost. Thus, in Mississippi he works harder and longer, to design smaller and less costly buildings, for which he will receive less pay. On typical school work he cannot afford the added expense of retaining an acoustical consultant (whose specialized knowledge is required to assure success), nor will the School Board ordinarily agree to pay for these extra services.
In planning each school the architect must conform to the wishes of the school staff and also comply with the requirements of the various departments of the State Department of Education. Specialized functions such as lunchroom, library, science, homemaking, shop (and band and choral music) must be kept in balance and given equivalent emphasis. It is natural that the person concerned with any one of these functions should consider that one to be the most important.
Now to answer you more specifically, as to
Acoustics too poor–practically impossible to achieve any relief on our budgets; to get enough absorption units in a typical band practice room would be prohibitively costly.
Windows too big–needed for ventilation and light; outside noises usually less distracting than in typical recitation classrooms; will not vibrate if properly installed.
Rooms too small–proportionate to other departments; large as budget permits.
Lighting too dim–30 foot candles usually provided in new buildings in practice rooms; performances range from full afternoon sunlight, to alternating sun and shadow in parages, to night-time events.
Air conditioning required–wish it were economically feasible.
Heat pumps N.G.–they’re improving them.
Doors not sheltered–this we can and should do, where funds permit.
Doors too narrow–this we can and should do, where funds permit. (“panic” hardware for one double doors costs $75.00 more than for two single doors with post between)
Toilet rooms inaccessible–this we can and should do, and it normally won’t cost any more to do so.
Accessory rooms necessary–usually provided, to the extent that funds permit.
Fancy exteriors unnecessary–we’re with you 100%
Presumptuousness–not at all
What can be done? All of your suggestions deserve to be brought to the attention of every Mississippi architect. In particular, your recommendations as to sheltered areas at band room exterior doors, provision for wider doors, and location of toilet rooms near band rooms–these the State Department of Education can keep in mind to check specifically when plans of proposed buildings are reviewed. In general, however, the overall problems of increasing space, and up-grading the quality of our school facilities must be the concern of all Mississippians.
This post is part of an ongoing series of reprints of the Mississippi Architect magazine. To read more posts, see the tables of contents and read each month’s magazine in its original format, click the MSArcht tab above.