Hamer Hall is Melbourne’s main concert hall. The heritage building is the home of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the premier venue for visiting orchestras and other acoustic and amplified music.
Hamer Hall is in the Southbank arts precinct, just across the Yarra River from the CBD.
It is a 1982 heritage-listed building by architect Sir Roy Grounds, who also designed the neighbouring National Gallery of Victoria and Arts Centre Melbourne theatres building. The interiors were created by Australian expat actor, production designer and artistic director John Truscott.
We improved the 2564-seat auditorium’s acoustics, made the building more practical for audiences and performers, and calibrated it with its surroundings (especially Southgate, the thriving retail and hospitality precinct that had grown up around Hamer since it opened). All of this needed to be done with the utmost care to respect and preserve Hamer’s heritage elements.
“The Victorian Arts Centre trustees watched over us with the focused concern of a parent with a child in surgery.”
Hamer Hall is a drum shape, a circular concrete fort beside the river. Grounds imagined it as a subterranean excavation with dug-out, cavernous interiors and its auditorium sunk three storeys underground. Its form is pure and its concrete exterior raw.
Originally Hamer Hall resembled a closed citadel that excluded its surrounds, with no views to the river and opaque windows along St Kilda Road. Where it seemed to turn away from the water, our exterior design gives it a whole new face on the river side. We demolished the roof of the lower terrace, which was a dark, enclosed undercroft, and created an entrance opening onto the riverbank and Southgate. A grand concrete staircase joins the lower terrace to the St Kilda Road concourse. Our new, curved concrete structures on the riverside façade are shaped as if carved—or excavated—from a larger block. Irregular cutouts reveal windows to the river and the CBD beyond. The upper terrace is now wrapped with glass walls and there are bars and eateries on both levels.
We reawakened a design concept that original architect Roy Grounds never got to realise: the Rainbow Snake. He intended it as a basis from which to generate shapes; for us it is a cord that twists under and over the adjacent Yarra River and into the building. It is mostly imaginary but we have made it corporeal at certain points: it determines the concrete curves of the new riverside façade, the inverted cone in the new entrance, and the tail pattern trailing across the St Kilda Road foyer carpet.
Grounds had planned an earthy palette and brutalist interiors but the Victorian Arts Centre trustees didn’t like it. So they engaged John Truscott, who interpreted the architect’s subterranean idea as a jewelled cave. He created a plush, glitzy, yet deeply elegant decor full of red, gold leaf and leather.
We worked with Grounds’ and Truscott’s aesthetics to maintain the existing character. We added more Truscott-style materials such as dark mirrors and leather walls, but changed the red colour scheme to orange and bronze. We found the original carpet swatches and had the ageing carpets remade. In the 2564-seat auditorium, the concrete walls are painted to look like stratified stone. We engaged the original artist to retouch them.
Throughout the foyers we added more bars and improved the configuration of the existing ones. There are more toilets and more, better-situated stairs and escalators. We also introduced a box office. Our changes are most noticeable in the St Kilda Road foyer: we kept more closely to Truscott’s interiors in the lower foyers.
Our task was to achieve maximum improvement with minimal change. The auditorium is only subtly different in character—orange rather than red—but we have raised the acoustics to world-class standard.
We also installed a theatrical grid built for non-orchestral performances so that stage sets, lighting frames, speakers etc. can be flown in. The grid means Hamer can accommodate a wider range of performance types than most concert halls.
We achieved this rise in acoustic standards by:
Our Hamer Hall designs are fully documented in Revit. We began with a full Revit model of Hamer’s existing conditions then created another model of our proposal. We shared this with all the project’s major consultants who used it for tasks including acoustic modelling, structure and CFD modelling. We also gave a Revit model to the client to use for facilities management purposes after the work was completed. Our software design tools included Rhinoceros and 3D Studio Max, which we used for both design work and presentations.
We improved the Hall’s sustainability significantly by replacing the auditorium air conditioning. We installed a floor-duct system that uses less energy than the previous top-down one because it concentrates the air around the seating instead of all the way to the ceiling. The air is released more slowly and quietly and doesn’t suffer uncomfortable warm and cold layering. We installed new, more energy-efficient escalators, lighting and lighting controls. The new water fixtures and fittings have a higher WELLS rating than the original ones.