Author: Sebastian Gurciullo

Provenance Editor

Black and white image of outdoor concert venue Myer Music Bowl 1959
Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners (1877–1978), Photographic Collection. Myer Music Bowl under construction c. 1959, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 8357/P1, Unit 7, Moomba: Various Years – Myer Music Bowl, Item 4/3.

 

The long quest for an orchestral shell

The proposal for an outdoor ‘orchestral shell’ in Melbourne’s Kings Domain was a topic of public conversation during the 1940s. Correspondence records of the Melbourne City Council document the elevation of the idea into a specific proposal at this time, but the project was delayed due to priorities of World War II industrial production and rationing. As early as 1922, architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear put forward a plan for making the King’s Domain Melbourne’s new cultural centre. The proposal included an open-air auditorium that would have seated around 5,000 people, and it would have been located on the same site as the Myer Music Bowl.

After many years of public discussions and delay due to war-time austerity, the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust invited Yuncken Freeman, Griffiths & Simpson and Grounds Romberg & Boyd to contribute to a joint design scheme in 1956. Gary Patten of Yuncken Freeman, Griffiths & Simpson produced a design that saw his firm take control of the project.

 

A metallic skin of alumply built for sound

The structure is composed of steel cables and masts supporting a distinctive tent-like skin of aluminium-clad plywood (a material known as ‘Alumply’) which gives it the visually striking freeform flow of draped material. A number of new techniques were developed while building the structure to ensure that it was waterproof, flexible and stable. The anchor points for the cables had to be able to resist corrosion.

 

Black and white worker constructs Myer Music Bowl
Trade Publicity Branch, Black and white general prints, alphabetical series (1951–1986), The roof of the Melbourne Myer Music Bowl, Australia, being sealed with glazing tape (strip caulk), circa 1976. National Archives of Australia, NAA: B941, HARDWARE/SEALANTS/1

 

Construction of the music bowl took place during 1958 and it was officially opened on 12 February 1959. Alongside the Olympic Pool, the bowl is considered to be one of the most significant Melbourne landmark buildings produced in the 1950s, a period that was characterised by enthusiasm for new approaches to structural engineering.

The canopy, in addition to being stable and robust, was also designed to produce a high quality acoustic environment for concerts. With its elegant and innovative design, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl remains one of Melbourne’s most enduring and iconic outdoor entertainment venues.

 

Black and white image of construction of Myer Music Bowl
Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners (1877–1978), Photographic Collection. Myer Music Bowl under construction c. 1959, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 8357/P1, Unit 7, Moomba: Various Years – Myer Music Bowl, Item 4/47.

 

The design was internationally ahead of its time. Other ‘orchestral shells’, such as the Hollywood Bowl, had usually been constructed as solid concrete structures, whereas the tensile skin of the Myer Music Bowl anticipated the kind of structures Frei Otto started producing in Germany nearly a decade later. Most notably, Otto designed the Munich Olympic Park for the 1972 Olympics. The grandstands of the stadium had a series of tent-like structures that in many ways resemble the Patten’s design.

 

Additions and refurbishments

In 1963 designs were produced by Yuncken Freeman for a permanent kiosk at the Myer Music Bowl. The location was directly behind the audience area to the south of the auditorium space. City of Melbourne Town Clerk’s correspondence includes copies of the design and a series of letters relating to existing contractual rights for the provision of refreshments in temporary marquees at the site and advice on whether the design would be suitable and compliant with regulations. These designs were never realised. 

The bowl has undergone a number of refurbishments, most recently an extensive one under the direction of Gregory Burgess Architects that was completed in 2001. By the 1990s the bowl needed a refurbishment to consolidate its standing as a prime venue and bring it up to date as a place to stage outdoor performances. With this in mind, the Victorian Arts Centre Trust commissioned Gregory Burgess Architects in 1998 to undertake improvements to audience, back of house and technical facilities. The refurbishment had to contend with strict heritage controls, and succeeded in blending a range of new facilities and amenities into the existing structure and site such that they made minimal impact on the aesthetics. Despite significant additions to the existing amenities, most of which remain hidden below ground, the site continues to retain a harmonious balance between the built structure, the landscape of the site, and its integration into the surrounding parklands of the King’s Domain.
 

Artist rendering of proposed permanent kiosk by Yuncken Freeman Architects, 1963, VPRS 3183/P7, Unit 14, Item 67/1778.
Artist rendering of proposed site plan showing its location relative to the bowl by Yuncken Freeman Architects, 1963, VPRS 3183/P7, Unit 14, Item 67/1778.

 

A versatile venue

Since its completion in 1959 the Music Bowl has hosted countless events such as evangelical gatherings, Vision Australia’s annual Carols by Candlelight, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s free summer concerts, winter ice-skating, and concerts.