San Fran music school’s new glass building achieves acoustical efficiency

San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM’s) new building features white and transparent double-glazed glass on its facade, pushing the glass’ capacity to achieve optimal acoustical performance throughout.

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center, the city’s performing arts district, the Ute & William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts (Bowes Center) at SFCM was designed by Mark Cavagnero Associates (Cavagnero) as a “vertical campus” which incorporates student housing, dining, classrooms, rehearsal rooms, performance spaces, and a radio station all under one roof.

Building on the firm’s innovations in the design of SFJAZZ Center in the Bay Area, Cavagnero’s design for Bowes Center achieves the transparency of a glass exterior, while exceeding its rigorous acoustic requirements. To achieve a cohesive design language, while meeting its high acoustic demands—which change from floor to floor, with a mix of performance, practice, recording, and residential spaces throughout its twelve stories. Due to the location and neighboring Van Ness Avenue, the Cavagnero team designed a custom curtainwall system integrating all acoustic requirements into one seamless envelope.

Collaborating with Kirkegaard Associates, Tipping Structural Engineers, and curtainwall fabricator CS Erectors, Cavagnero pushed the boundaries of the glass’s capacity to perform at high acoustic levels. The design utilizes double-glazed walls and a floating structural slab to isolate noise and vibration transmission from the street, while maintaining transparency into the performance spaces. The system also provides a sustainable element to the design, further creating additional thermal buffer.

Filled with the sights and sounds of music, the Bowes Center invites passersby at this active intersection to see performances through floor to ceiling windows in its ground floor jewel-box, Cha Chi Ming Recital Hall. The top two floors glow and stand out with floor to ceiling windows, the 200-seat Barbro Osher Recital Hall, flexible event space, and a roof terrace offering unparalleled views of City Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, the War Memorial Opera House, and other landmarks.

“We designed the Bowes Center as an expression of the Conservatory’s mission, where students and the public can come together to experience music in a welcoming, inspiring space,” says Mark Cavagnero, Founding Principal of Mark Cavagnero Associates. “It’s so gratifying to see it come alive; we hope the building inspires students to learn, connect, and create, in the context of the city’s performing arts leaders.”

“We’re thrilled to inaugurate the Bowes Center,” says David Stull, SFCM President. “It was very important to us to create a space that encourages access and breaks down silos. For too long, the world of classical music has been seen as exclusive, with a huge barrier to entry—in its transparency, the Bowes Center invites the public in and builds connection.”

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