Passing away of Daniel Commins

Tue 16 Jan 2024
Daniel Commins.jpg

DANIEL COMMINS 6 June 1940 – 9 December 2023

Hélène Brodsky Commins was eight months pregnant when she and her husband Edwin Commins, along with daughter Hélène, escaped from Liège, Belgium as the Nazis invaded in May 1940. The small family, of Jewish origin, did not stop upon reaching the Paris, but immediately headed to safety in the Aveyron region of the south of France. Daniel was born on 6 June 1940 in Decazeville, and the family lived discreetly in the nearby town of Capdenac. Edwin Commins was eventually taken in as a prisoner of war and, as a British subject, was held on the outskirts of Paris in Saint-Denis, while his wife and young children remained in relative safety until the war’s end. Helene Brodsky hid her knowledge of Russian from the POW Soviet soldiers who were guarding the bridge in Capdenac, but she was able to listen in on their conversations and anticipated possible dangers. Once the war was over and the family headed back to Liège, young Daniel, born in France, was not allowed to cross the border. His mother stubbornly fought to convince the border guards, and the family returned to Liège. Question of origins, borders, nationalities, and language would preoccupy Daniel for the rest of his life. Whenever he was asked where he was from he would reply, without hesitation and with a point of pride, “nowhere.”

As lovers of music and with shared ethnic origins, the Commins family often hosted in their home Eastern European musicians passing through Liège. Meeting artists such as David Oïstriakh helped to plant the seed in Daniel’s mind of his future career path. After a first degree in civil engineering (electronics and acoustics) at the University of Liège in 1964, where he was editor of the publication Technique et Humanisme, Daniel headed to the University of California for graduate studies. After years of experimental physics, he finally wrapped up his doctoral thesis from a beach house in Santa Monica, receiving his PhD in Physical Acoustics from UCLA in 1972 under the supervision of Etienne Guyon, who would remain a life-long friend. Eager to leave academia and get started in a professional life of applied engineering, he started working for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) on a wide range of projects dealing with acoustics and noise control. Celebrated acoustician Leo Beranek inspired and supported Daniel throughout his career, helping him to get back to Europe, first as an engineer with Muller-bbn in Munich, and then back to France to start his own consulting firm.

Daniel married Sharon Breit in California in 1972, and their son Eli was born in 1973. Once back in France, their daughter Evi was born in 1976 and the family lived in Gif-sur-Yvette. The marriage lasted until 1988. Daniel remarried in Paris in 2002 to Lia Kiladis, from Baltimore, Maryland and lived since then in the 20th arrondissement, as well as in Berzé-le-Châtel, Burgundy. He is survived by Lia and his children Eli and Evi. Eli Commins and Lise George and their children Anna and Theodore reside in Nantes; Evi Commins and Romaric Besançon and their children Noémie and Lila reside in Bures-sur-Yvette.

Daniel founded the consulting firm later known as commins acoustics workshop in 1975, and through the years developed partnerships with colleagues in Sweden, London, Cambridge (USA), and Portugal. His natural curiosity, thirst for culture, and strong work ethic drove his career as an acoustician without borders. He considered his main goal to be the use of the science of acoustics in practical problems and in applied research. He was involved in many types of projects ranging from the measurement, analysis, and solution of noise; vibration and acoustics problems in buildings, in the environment, and in industry; research programs on the evaluation and diagnosis of noise; and the establishment of noise abatement policies at the national and international levels. He authored or co-authored more than fifty publications dealing with opera house and concert hall acoustics, room acoustics, noise, vibrations, research on the artificial ear, sound propagation in liquid helium and in liquid crystals, highway noise design guides, and noise abatement policy. His passion was concert halls and operas – or technically, room acoustics and the treatment of natural sound. He contributed to the design of many cultural buildings in France, Europe, and indeed, throughout the world, working with well-known design professionals such as Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Vittorio Gregotti, Peter Rice, IM Pei, Frank Gehry, Christian de Portzamparc, Ricardo Bofill, Alvaro Siza, Joao-Luis Carrilho da Graça, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban. In addition, in his work Daniel often consulted with arts professionals such as Zubin Mehta, Zarin Mehta, James Conlon, Simon Rattle, Kurt Masur, Wynton Marsalis, Maria-Joao Pires, Pierre Boulez, Valery Gergiev, Antoine Vitez, Patrice Chéreau, Philippe Herreweghe, and Daniel Barenboim.

His major projects in France included many of Paris’ most famous buildings such as the Musée d'Orsay, Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Cité de la Musique, Grande Halle de la Villette, Tête Défense Grande Arche, and the Grand Louvre. In addition, his work took him outside the city walls to the Arsenal in Metz, the Corum in Montpellier, Congress Center in Nantes, Tony Garnier Hall in Lyon, the Grand Theatre of Aix-en-Provence, Pompidou Center in Metz and the Theatre-Auditorium in Poitiers.

Although he was based in Paris, Daniel’s work and expertise took him all over the world. His projects internationally include the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Brussels; the Théâtre Royal de Wallonie in Liège; the Sao Carlos Opera House in Lisbon; the Serralves Museum in Porto; the Ceuta Congress Center in Spain and the Teatro Arcimboldi in Milan. He conducted feasibility studies for Montreal Concert Hall, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and the Kennedy Center in Washington. He performed audits for Henry Crown Auditorium in Jerusalem, Manchester Concert Hall, and Köln Concert Hall; Ravinia Festival Hall in Chicago; Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg; L’Aquila temporary Concert Hall, and Sky Concert Hall (the world’s highest) in Shenzhen, China. Daniel was a consultant to numerous governments and international organizations, such as the Ministry of Culture in Iraq for the reconstruction the Greek Theatre in Babylon, and an advisor to the Italian government for the reconstruction of « La Fenice » Opera House in Venice.

Daniel phased out of doing full scale consulting projects, closing his firm in 2018. At age 78, a summer stint volunteering with an elementary school in Moshi, Tanzania led to his sponsorship of five young women in their goal to reach higher education, which is still difficult for girls in Tanzania. At the same time, with educator Halima Msangi, he founded the Head Start Academy in Moshi. In 2021 it became an officially sanctioned English-speaking elementary school comprised of 50 students, half of whom come from the poorest families in Moshi, the other half from those who can afford the modest fee. Owing in part to Daniel’s deep commitment to this endeavor, fundraising is currently underway to hire more teachers and triple the size of the campus. Daniel was passionate about this project until his very last days.

Lia Kiladis