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Gong for acoustical engineer and choir stalwart

By Marie Sherry

Queens Birthday Honours recipient Harold Marshall has sung in the Mt Albert Methodist Church choir for 60 years and has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as an acoustics designer.

Harold is an architect, engineer and physicist who is recognised internationally for his contribution to concert hall design. He received a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s Queens Birthday Honours list and says he was surprised to receive such a high honour.

As a world authority on acoustics, Harold has designed the acoustics for some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls.

Harold Marshall received a Queens Birthday honour for his work as an acoustical designer of international standing.
Formerly professor of Architecture at University of Auckland and head of the Acoustics Research Centre, Harold has more than 45 years’ experience in the acoustical design of auditoria and concert halls.

His work is widely cited in technical literature and his interest in these fields is sharpened by his active involvement in musical performance as a bass-baritone.

Harold’s career in acoustics began after he completed an honours degree in architecture alongside a science degree in physics and mathematics.

“I had to choose a project for my architecture major, and acoustics seemed to be a natural choice because I was one of the few people in the country who could do the physics and the architecture,” he says.

Harold soon began designing projects around New Zealand, with one of his most significant early projects being the Memorial Hall at Christ’s College in Christchurch.

“The major breakthrough happened at the time of the construction of the Christchurch Town Hall in the early 1970s. My job was to advise the competition committee about the acoustical merits of the design. That led me to being appointed by Warren and Mahoney as the consultant on the project,” he says.

“It was a very revolutionary design. The most striking feature of the town hall is the big reflectors on the sides. They were designed to produce strong lateral reflected sound. It was a completely new thing at the time and came directly from the competition. It’s stuck with us and is now a primary design in concert halls.”

The next major project Harold undertook was the Michael Fowler Centre in Auckland, followed by town halls in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.

In 1980 he formed a company with Christopher Day, called Marshall Day Acoustics. It provides a wide range of acoustical, environmental noise, and noise control design services, including concert hall and auditoria design, environmental noise assessments, building services and industrial noise control.

Harold’s present role with Marshall Day Acoustics is group consultant. He leads the conceptual design of concert halls and similar commissions as required by any of the 10 international practice offices, which employ a total of about 60 engineers.

He is currently involved in three major projects in China, including the Guangzhou Opera House, two in Australia, one in New Zealand and the Philharmonie de Paris in France.

“I’m the acoustical designer for the Philharmonie de Paris, which is a tremendously prestigious project in the heart of Europe. It’s quite extraordinary that a New Zealand company should be involved.”