Melbourne Recital Centre

The Melbourne Recital Centre has revolutionised classical music in its city. It has the acoustic and architectural qualities of the great old-world concert halls but on a smaller, chamber-music scale.

Before MRC, Melbourne desperately needed a true chamber music venue. Local chamber groups were performing in an assortment of inadequate small venues around the city. Ensembles that attracted larger audiences performed in the 2564-seat Hamer Hall, which cannot offer the intimacy that is integral to a chamber performance.

The building has two main venues: the 1000-seat Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the multi-purpose Salon.

On the Recital Centre’s 10th birthday, Ian McDougall showed us around:

Ground floor foyer

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

This auditorium has the traditional shoebox shape that acoustic experts worldwide agree is the most successful model. It sits on isolation springs and is physically separated from the rest of the building to insulate it from structure-borne noise.

The walls are covered with symmetrical routed timber panelling. The 3D textured surface optimises the acoustics in the same way as the lumpy gilded caryatides, friezes, dentils and coffers in halls of earlier eras.

Essential to the acoustic function is that the ceiling doesn’t need an adjustable reflector. It produces a consistent and predictable acoustic around the auditorium.

In order to create a large foyer where a whole audience can meet, we located the main bar at ground level and the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall above it on the first floor. This also meant we could position the isolation springs above the foyer ceiling where they are easy to access.

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

The Salon

This simple rectangular room seats 130 for small concerts, functions and pre-concert talks. There is no fixed stage or seating. It has a theatre-style lighting grid on the ceiling. The Salon walls and ceiling are textured with square panels, angled for acoustic and visual performance. We had the meandering graphic score for Percy Grainger’s Free Music No.2 carved into them. Air displacement grills are integrated into the overall design.


The Salon

Percy Grainger: Free Music No.2


We imagined the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the Salon as precious musical objects, and the MRC façade as the protective packaging for them. The white exterior resembles a custom-moulded polystyrene cutout of the sort that lines a box with fragile equipment inside. The bluestone western wall is the side of the cardboard box. It even has a stylised cross-section of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall—a pictogram of the goods inside.


The exterior looks like a polystyrene cutout

Western wall with a pictogram of the goods inside

On the northern wall, the irregular hexagonal windowpanes are based on a Voronoi diagram, a network of cells that occurs naturally in many plants and animals—even honeycombs and bubbles. In this case, there’s an analogy with bubble wrap.

Staircase inside the Voronoi window


Besides its acoustic properties, the auditorium features:

  • a forestage lift that can be lowered to create an orchestra pit and access the storeroom below the stage. When raised to auditorium level, the forestage accommodates audience seating.
  • two lighting bridges in the ceiling and lighting bars that can be flown in over the stage
  • a projection screen
  • a lighting, sound and producer’s box at the rear of the balcony
  • full wings on prompt and off-prompt sides with operable doors to accommodate dance performances
  • two levels of side balconies with a single row of seating on each one to optimise sight lines from those seats
  • a custom-designed balcony front that incorporates lighting and projection and can be accessed from the balcony for safety and ease of use.

Both the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the Salon are fully equipped recording studios.


The performer-only areas are clean, modern and functional rather than ornate. They include:

  • a conditioned piano storeroom
  • three practice rooms
  • a dedicated loading dock and large-goods lift
  • instrument storage, both in a designated room and in convenient corridor spaces
  • a bandroom
  • a meeting room and board room
  • a conductor/soloist room
  • a choir room
  • administration offices
  • stage door