Cyril M. Harris
Acoustical Society of America
Gold Medal Award
Cyril M. Harris
It is my pleasure to write this encomium for Cyril Harris on the occasion of the award of the highest honor our Society can grant—the Gold Medal. I've known Cyril since 1937 when we were undergraduates and then graduate students at UCLA sitting in on Vern Knudsen's courses in acoustics. These were exciting times. UCLA was quite young. It was only 9 years since the campus in Westwood had been established. Leo Delsasso taught the acoustics laboratory courses. Norman Watson had a research hearing laboratory. Dick Bolt and Bob Leonard arrived from Berkeley. Waldo Lyon, Jules Charney, and Bob Gales were fellow students. Mah Dah Yu spent a semester with us during the period when he traveled from China to Harvard University. Knudsen with Delsasso's aid had made the seminal discovery of the role of water vapor in altering the attenuation of sound in air. Kneser on sabbatical in Berkeley came down to UCLA to see the results and developed a theory of the role of molecular relaxation in accounting for the effect. But Cyril had other plans for his future and after earning his M.A. in Physics went to MIT and earned his Ph.D. in Physics with Philip Morse in 1945. This brings us to the mature Cyril Harris.
A hallmark of Cyril Harris' technical activities is that he is multifaceted. At Columbia University he concurrently held the positions of Charles Batchelor Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Architecture, and was also Chairman of the Division of Architectural Technology.
Although he published many papers (more than 60 unclassified papers and an unnumbered quantity of classified papers) he was able to produce several books in the capacity of co-author, editor, or co-editor: Acoustical Designing in Architecture (co-author with V. O. Knudsen); Editor, Handbook of Noise Control, 1st and 2nd edition; co-editor with C. E. Crede of Shock and Vibration Handbook; editor, Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture. These four books are recognized as the authoritative reference books in their field.
Cyril's research interests lie in the broad areas of Speech, Noise, Sound Propagation in Air, and Architectural Acoustics. His use of a large spherical resonator to measure the absorption of sound in the air as a function of humidity was excellent and was state of the art technique. However deep his interest was in the physical acoustics experiment, his most important work was and is in Architectural Acoustics.
In physical acoustics, as in all of physics, we treasure the approval of our peers. In fact, a measure of our professional success is the extent and quality of this approval. This is also true in Architectural Acoustics. But for those engaged in Auditorium Acoustics and, most especially, Concert Auditorium Acoustics, it is even more important to have the approval of the principals in a concert: the performers, the conductor, the artists, the composers, the music critics, the orchestra members, and the concert audience. Without their approval, peer approval is empty. Thus a most important measure of the success of an acoustic consultant engaged in concert hall design is the opinion of all these people who may not appreciate the scientific aspects of concert hall design but have strong opinions of the resultant quality of music heard in the finished concert hall. It is of considerable interest then to take note of these opinions and react to them even when they're not scientifically based. There is no better example of the harm that can be done that the Lincoln Center débâcle. A point was reached where Cyril Harris, who was hired as an Acoustical Consultant with unusual powers, could only recommend reconstructing the auditorium.
As a consultant, Cyril has participated in the construction of more than 100 halls. A few are listed below:
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC
Minnesota Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, Illinois
National Academy of Sciences Auditorium, Washington, DC
Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, Missouri
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Bombay, India
New Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
Bicentennial Arts Auditorium, Salt Lake City
It is quite possible or even likely that Cyril has been more honored than any member of our Society. Listed below are some of the honors he has received as well as the citations when available.
Member of the National Academy of Sciences
Member of the National Academy of Engineering
The Franklin Medal, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (1977)
"For his many contributions to the science of acoustics and to acoustical engineering and architecture; and for his mastery of the combination of the technology of acoustics and arts of building in the achievement of superlative acoustical properties in many great music halls and auditoriums, to the enhanced enjoyment and inspiration of a multitude of artists and listeners, and as a demonstration that acoustical engineering is a quantitative science." The A.I.A. Medal, American Institute of Architects (1980)
"Researcher, Teacher, Acoustical Designer. His ingenuity and dedication, not only to the progress of science, but also the clear projection of sound and meaning within built space, has given a voice to concert halls. From New York's Lincoln Center to Salt Lake City's Symphony Hall, he has found, through his love of music, the technology with which orchestras can sing." Wallace Clement Sabine Medal, Acoustical Society of America (1979)
"For his contributions to the theory of room acoustics and for the application of these principles to the acoustical design of concert halls, opera houses, and theaters." Distinguished Service Award, Utah Symphony Orchestra (1979)
"For the acoustical design of Symphony Hall in Salt Lake City." Honorary Award, U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology (1977)
"Physicist, Acoustical Engineer, Designer, Educator, Author; in recognition of his creative contributions for performing arts facilities in America." Honorary Vice-President, Saint Louis Symphony Associate (1977)
"For the acoustical design of Powell Symphony Hall, Saint Louis." Emile Berliner Award (1976)
"For an outstanding contribution to the world of sound." Honorary Member and Gold Medal, Audio Engineering Society (1973)
"For outstanding contributions to the field of architectural acoustics."
Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, New Jersey Institute of Technology (1981)
Finally, Cyril has always had a strong interest in the Society. He has served on the Executive Council and as Vice-President and President of our Society. Moreover, he was an associate editor of the Journal for 12 years. The Society has honored him by granting him the Wallace Clement Sabine Medal in 1979. He delivered the Knudsen Memorial Lecture at the 106th Meeting of the Society (San Diego).
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