Northwestern University’s Bienen Building Enhances Music Experience for All

The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University carries a national reputation as one of the premier music institutions in the United States, with a faculty known for providing the finest training in musical arts. Although music starts with the teacher, It quickly moves to the studio or practice room, and finally, the concert hall. The construction of the new Bienen School Building, located at the school’s Evanston, IL campus, creates a facility that consolidates all of the music school programs in one location.

The 167,000 square-foot Bienen Building features two wings (north and south), each five stories tall. The structure includes a 400-seat recital hall, a chorale hall and an opera hall; an atrium, teaching studios, administrative offices, classrooms, practice rooms, and rehearsal spaces.

NECA/IBEW 134 electrical contractors faced significant challenges in their efforts to equip the facility to meet the highest standards for music instruction and performance. “The entire building was planned with the help of 3D modeling,” says Jeff Weir of electrical contractor Kelso Burnett. “That proved to be very helpful because it gave us the ability to create scale models of each space, populated with the necessary electrical equipment. By working with computer models, our equipment installers minimized the possibility of costly mistakes and reduced the coordination time needed between the electrical foreman and the mechanical foreman.”

Weir cites a number of enhancements designed to improve the acoustic qualities of the Bienen Building. For example, the facility was built without any rooftop mechanical equipment, a move he says significantly enhances sound quality within the building. “Also, because this is a music facility, all of the practice rooms have significant acoustical requirements. The rehearsal rooms and faculty studios are all soundproofed so that when the musicians practice, they will not be able to hear each other.”

The electrical contractors performed diverse yet very specific duties, according to Weir. “We divided the work accordingly. One group did building automation and another did security. Our company was responsible for power distribution, lighting controls, wiring devices, electrical mechanical connections and the fire alarm installation.”

Contractors from Kelso Burnett installed a Lutron Lighting system, which allows regulation of the level and quality of light in a given space for specific tasks or situations, resulting in significant energy savings. Electrical contractors also installed a lighting inverter system to supply emergency lighting whenever a facility experiences short term loss of power.

”This was a fairly complex project, architecturally and mechanically,” says Weir. “There were several areas of the building that we were not allowed to run conduit through. As electrical contractors, we had to find less traditional routes to feed our equipment throughout the building. All the credit goes to our electricians who brought a level of expertise that made installation easier for the client and general contractor.”