Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Theatre Company

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Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Theatre Company
The 1000 seat Melbourne Recital Centre and 500 seat Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) Theatre, collocated on their Southbank site, have distinct but complementary identities. Accessed from a landscaped civic plaza that addresses Southbank Boulevard, together they create an exciting new civic space within Melbourne’s vibrant arts precinct. The Melbourne Recital Centre has been designed primarily as a chamber music venue with the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall seating 1000 music lovers, and the 130 seat Salon space for pre-concert talks, experimental chamber music, recording and functions. The timber panelling of the performance spaces provides the best possible acoustic for recital music. The building also includes comprehensive backstage support accommodation and a multilevel foyer space whose interior is highly visible from the exterior and provides patrons with spectacular views back toward the city skyline. The tradition of buildings for music performance is one of oscillating trends, fads and technical challenges. Such buildings must meet diverse demands, artistic and civic, apart from their directly functional requirements. Two examples of the tradition are illustrated here. Wigmore Hall was designed as a piano showroom, in the neo-Georgian style of the era. Musikverein was designed as a grand music centre, also in the neo-classical style of the late 19th century. The 20th century focus on the technological and multipurpose loosened the type, creating a series of geometric and expressive halls, celebrating this new freedom. Our proposal was based on an alternative approach. We wanted to create a 21st century version of the classical tradition. The design emerged from the idea that the building itself, with its ‘box inside a box’ structure, serves as a kind of packaging. We began by considering the (im)possibilities of a vessel for music, the elegant container for the ineffable, catching the uncatchable, packing and shipping the unholdable. Part of this manifestation is the idea that performed music, unlike recorded music is precious – so the container was a protector of these precious ephemera. The new hall would be the packaging for an invisible treasure. The architecture might become that which is discarded when opening the gift. Or it might be the thing that gets played with when the gift is forgotten. It’s a delicate balance. To capture this speculation, we began to look at the packaging itself; polystyrene casings, resin casings, moulded plastic box liners, loose package protectors and beads, blister wrap, the lot. In this we found the tradition of Baroque space – an architectural tradition of inside and outside, that parallels the intellectual tradition of elaboration and texture in music. A key aspect implied in the brief was the need for display, to ensure that the activity of performance and listening is seen in the street. This is a strong ideal in contemporary life. The opening up of space into the city, action inside seen outside, those inside looking out. This intention required the building to have an open face. The possibilities of the abject package and the tradition of the built section coincide in the moulded protective form that we proposed for the front façade. It is shielded in its sheer box of stone, but opens up to the street. The MTC Theatre, the first permanent home for the Melbourne Theatre Company, features the 500 seat Sumner Theatre, a single tier, proscenium arch theatre which includes a full fly tower and backstage accommodation for actors and technical staff. The walls are lined with quotes from renowned plays backlit with LEDs and can be illuminated in any colour, giving the performance space its own sense of drama before the performance itself takes place. There is also the 150 seat Lawler Studio for smaller productions and rehearsals. The facade system is composed of iridescent painted steel pipework mounted proud of black aluminium cladding. The overall facade pattern challenges spatial perceptions through the blurring of 2 & 3 dimensional space – that which appears shaped is actually flat, and likewise, a 2 dimensional surface is actually 3 dimensional. A connection with the nature of theatrical production is made explicit and celebrated on the outside of the building. Not ‘over-fancy’, the foyers, backstage and other front-of-house spaces are direct and natural; we strove to maintain the informality and can-do personality of the MTC. Too often the design of contemporary theatres has been politely functional, sensibly pragmatic but ultimately dull – ignoring the traditions of energy, passion and humanity that are the very core of the theatre. The realised building captures the culture of the Company – energised, progressive and of the highest artistic quality. The building is stridently Melburnian, continuing the city’s tradition for outstanding buildings – striking yet subtle, magical and sensual, intelligent, a place of sound and action. Like the theatre of our time, architecture is narrative, pictorial and realistic, but at the same time abstract and technological. Our approach was to capture these two parallel traditions, to design a building that infers illusory space, blurring volume and perspective. We have attempted to design the building in the dark. Rather than envision the project as a daytime presence that is lit up at night, we have designed it as a place in the night, a beacon or a min-min, with a shape and dynamism that is made for the night.


11 photos and 9 drawings

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