Music halls: Let’s get physical

Case Study: Konzerthaus, Blaibach

Blaibach's concert hall forms part of a new cultural quarter aimed at revitalising this Bavarian town. Like something from a fairytale, the design from Munich architect Peter Haimerl announces the concert hall's presence with only a monolithic, tilted cube-like structure that protrudes out of the square, clad in rough granite.

The idea was to avoid overshadowing the town's historic buildings with the unsettling presence of anything too modern - though the structure, buried underground, is modernity itself.

Entering through a large void under the cube's tilted frame, the visitor finds a staircase that leads directly to the wood-ceilinged planes of the basement foyer. From there they can access cloakrooms, toilets and bar, as well as the dramatic, 200-seater auditorium, deep in the ground.

Konzerthaus, Blaibach
Konzerthaus, Blaibach. Photo: Edward Beierle

Constructed entirely of untreated concrete, the auditorium walls are left raw, so that the dimples and cracks from the material's pouring and settling can act as subtle acoustic baffles Haimerl worked with acoustic technicians to determine the ideal shape for this intimate auditorium, leading to the pleated ceiling and walls. An automotive fabrication team helped to execute the delicate formwork, while Haimerl oversaw the pouring of the concrete, with tubing for radiant heating, LED light fixtures, and other utilities directly embedded

At their deepest, the walls are 60cm thick, at their thinnest the pleats are 5cm. Another set of tubes in the concrete help modulate the bass tones, resulting in a more balanced acoustic overall. The concrete chosen is a lightweight mix with recycled glass aggregate, which results in a rough, papery surface. Seating a tenth of the town's population, its performances are regularly sold out.

Client: Cham municipal government
Architect: Peter Haimerl Architektur, Munich
Area: 560 sq m
Cost: €1.6m
Completed: 2014


Case Study: Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall is the only intact survivor of the UK's Victorian music-hall era. Converted in 1858 from four 17th-century houses and a pub into a music hall and bar, it was lavishly furnished and featured the best heating, lighting and ventilation systems of the day. Some still traces remained after another 70 years as a chapel, soup kitchen and as a shelter through both world wars. Saved from slum clearance schemes in the Sixties, it was given a Grade II* isting and came back into occasional theatrical and musical use until the Wilton's Music Hall Trust was formed in 2004.

Its aim was to make safe what could be used for performances, while raising funds for a full refurbishment, which came to fruition last year when two phases of restoration were completed (with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund). The improved and stabilised spaces now provide new opportunities for venue hire as well as provision for community and learning activities.

Wilton’s Music Hall
Photo: Hélène Binet

With an architecture and heritage team consisting of Fullers restoration architects, Tim Ronalds Architects, EC Harris, Bristow Johnson, Cambridge Architectural Research, Max Fordham, All Clear Designs, Ramboli UK, and Carr and Angier, the building has been revived without losing its core qualities. Specialist restoration contractors have brought the utmost care and craftsmanship to the project. Most notably, Wilton's staff have been at the heart of the transformation, particularly building manager Jon Freeman, a trained architect, who has been juggling ushering and set-building duties with patching up collapsing floors since 1999 and, more recently, managing the design and building process.

The ambition has been to preserve the richly atmospheric look and feel of this building, with its layers of visible history.

Client: Wilton's Music Hall Trust
Architectural guidance: Tim Ronalds Architects
Heritage contractors: Fullers, William Anelay
Cost: £4m


Case Study: Philharmonic Hall, Szcsecin, Poland

The Philharmonic Hall is situated on the historic site of Szcsecin's Konzerthaus, which was destroyed during the Second World War.

Surrounded by the lofty ornamentation of the city's neo-gothic churches, the verticality and pitched roofs of its residential tenements, and the heavy volumes of its classicist buildings, Spanish architecture practice Barozzi Veiga has taken the surrounding geometries and translated them into a new rhythm and composition for the hall, complementing and contrasting the surrounding cityscape.

Clad entirely in glass, the building communicates great scale with extraordinary lightness. The structure is designed to create the appearance of a row of smaller structures, with adjoining gables giving the building a jagged roof profile. The ribbed glass facade glows at night, broadcasting the vibrant live-music programme scheduled inside.

Interiors continue the ethereal white theme of the exterior, with a generous minimalist foyer from which a grand spiral staircase sweeps up to a gallery space. This leads to conference rooms, galleries and two auditoria: a 1,000-seat concert hall and an intimate 200-seater for chamber music.

Philharmonic Hall
Photo: Simon Menges

Contrasting with the white simplicity of the rest of the building, the larger auditorium's ceiling is made of gilded timber panels, arranged to follow a Fibonacci sequence (their fragmentation increases with the viewer's distance from the scene), giving a dramatic sculptural feel to the space and ensuring a consistently high-quality acoustic experience wherever the listener sits.

Circulation spaces take the form of a continuous promenade that connects all the facilities, from auditoria to conference rooms and galleries. Large skylights add to the daylight that floods in through the facade, animating the shared and public spaces.

Last year it beat off stiff competition from more than 400 entries to win the most prestigious architecture prize in Europe: the Mies van der Rohe Award.

Client: Szcsecin Municipal Government, Poland
Architects: Barozzi Veiga, Studio A4
Area: 13,000 sq m
Completed: 2014
Structural Engineers: Boma SL, Fort Polska
Acoustics: Arau Acustica


Case Study: Colyer-Fergusson Hall

When the University of Kent secured vital funding from the Colyer-Fergusson Trust to upgrade its music facilities, it saw an opportunity to create something that the entire region, not just its music students, would benefit from. The Colyer-Fergusson Hall was designed by Tim Ronalds Architects (TRA) to be the 'finest concert hall of its size in Kent'. The hall itself is large enough for a full orchestra, choir of 200 and audience of 350. In addition, the building's facilities include a spacious foyer, practice rooms, offices as well as storage and technical spaces.

The quality of the offer is communicated in both the exterior and interior finishes and detailing of this handsome civic building. Strong, modernist geometry and proportions echo the best of the university's Sixties' structures. It is clad with flint-faced blockwork, in keeping with the adjacent university building, with bronze powder-coated windows.

Timber is prevalent throughout the public spaces, with douglas fir in wall and ceiling finishes, doors, joinery and handrails. Oak flooring supplies the required durability for a building used in and out of term time.

Colyer-Fergusson Hall

Key to TRA's proposal was the decision to connect this building with the university's theatre, cafe and academic building next door, so that the concert hall could take advantage of the toilet and refreshment facilities next door, thereby concentrating more of the £5.4m construction budget on creating the best acoustic conditions and the utmost flexibility for performers and audiences.

In the concert hall itself, the interior walls and ceiling are completely lined in douglas fir plywood, supported on a steel frame and braced with solid douglas fir rails, which help to diffuse any excess acoustic resonance.

The acoustics of the space can be modulated to suit different kinds of music: curtains stored behind the timber wall linings can be draped over the wood panelling to dampen resonance for brass, intimate vocal or rock performances. Seating also offers great flexibility, with two banks of retractable seating allowing for different arrangements of raked chairs or an open, flat-floored space.

Even the foyer can be used for informal concerts, with Douglas Fir plywood lining its walls and a pistachio-green curtain useful for both dampening and stage setting.

The building has won both RIBA regional and national awards, plus a Wood Award.

Client: University of Kent
Architect: Tim Ronalds Architects
Cost: £5.4m
Completed: October 2012
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Theatre consultant: Carr & Angier
Acoustic consultant: Arup Acoustics

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