Inspired by in part by the Hollywood Music Bowl and the intent of its creators to “democratize music”, which retailer and philanthropist Sidney Myer (1878-1934) had seen develop while living in California in the 1920s, the SMMB immediately impressed by the huge scale of performance it made possible. It was designed for audiences of 20,000 and frequently held more — vastly more than any indoor venue could hold. Myer had been a patron of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and his expressed wish for an open-air place for concerts that thousands could attend free was realised posthumously by a charitable trust established with proceeds from Myer’s estate.
The technical aspects of the design solution employed are no less impressive. A large cable-suspended roof, consisting of a net of pre-stressed secondary cables originally with a skin of aluminium-faced plywood panels, is draped over the stage and fixed seating area supported on two steel and fibreglass cigar-shaped masts. The structure occupies a man-made amphitheatre, extending the audience area beyond the canopy, enclosing a site of over 2.7 hectares.
Among the issues resolved by the multi-disciplinary team that realised the project — which included engineers, acousticians, CSIRO’s Forest Products Division and the Aeronautical Research Laboratories — were the management of wind loads, the development of corrosion-resistant in-ground cable anchors and the design of ball joint bases for the masts that allow movement by wind and expansion. Interestingly, the SMMB pre-dates the better-known cable-suspended and tensile structures designed by German architect/engineer Frei Otto (1925-2015) and the Lightweight Structures Group, part of Ove Arup & Partners.
In 1996, in association with Dr Philip Goad, we completed a conservation management plan for the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, for the Victorian Arts Centre Trust.
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