In 2019, Melbourne Recital Centre celebrates 10 years of music-making.
Ian McDougall, Founding Director of Ashton Raggatt McDougall Architecture (ARM) and Lead Designer behind the development of Melbourne Recital Centre reflects on how he and his team brought the Centre's architectural design to life over 10 years ago.
“The design challenge was both aesthetic and technical. Post war halls, according to our listener reference group, have been mostly disappointing for players and audiences. It appeared that these were unsuccessful in both acoustic and architectural character. So our first task was to decide on the typological shape of the Hall, since this seemed to focus the history, culture and science of acoustic music performance. Was the new Hall to be a variation of the egg, the fan shape or some similar modernistic geometry? Would functional analysis, sightline diagrams, acoustic modelling, or neo-plastic expression, compulsorily generate the space? Or alternatively, would the shape of the Hall be something developed from traditional models such as the shoe-box? At the beginning of the project, recital venues such as Wigmore Hall (1900, Collcutt), Musicvereinsaal (1870, Hansen) and Concertgebouw (1883, van Gendt), were nominated as the benchmarks for Melbourne’s new Hall. These are the great centres of music performance in the world – but they are 19th century buildings. And in the case of the Viennese and Dutch halls, replete with lumpy luxury, gilded caryatids, friezes, dentils and coffers et al.
Already, in the architectural world, there are explorations into the new music space. Most of these new buildings have been concert halls – a type less restricted than the Recital Hall. Frank Gehry in Los Angeles and Rem Koolhaas in Porto have attempted such reinventions. We too searched for a meaningful architectural response to classical and acoustic music performance in the 21st century.
Surprisingly we began with the shoe-box – the shape that the experts say guarantees/predicts acoustic perfection. Once adopted, the formal issue becomes a non-battle. We escape the desperate attempt to deny the box. Instead, the resolution of the Hall becomes one of the creation of room-ness, a remarkable room of spectacle, surface and sound.
There is no proscenium, just a stage. The performers are in the same place as the audience. The traditional box has been nudged out of box-ness. The space is symmetrical like the old halls. But it is not planar, nor is it articulated by panels of textured surfaces and flying reflecting plates. It looks like a basic room but it is in reality, a complex space.
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall is lined with timber. Ply-wood panels are routed to create the grain, like wooden ivy over the walls, which in turn makes the architectural character of the space – like the back of a beautiful instrument, or the lining of a luxurious suite.”