JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall is a temporary structure, especially for the solo performances of the exquisite chamber music of Johann Sebastian Bach. British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid for the Manchester International Festival in the year 2009 designed the Music hall. The structure sits within a 425m2 hall inside Manchester Art Gallery.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
Artist playing at the Chamber Music Hall

Case Study of Chamber Music Hall

  • ArchitectZaha Hadid Architects
  • Design– Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher
  • Design Team– Melodie Leung, Gerhild Orthacker
  • Location– Manchester art gallery, T1 gallery
  • Site area– 425 m2
  • Completion Year– 2009
  • Acoustic consultant– Sandy Brown Associates
  • Tensile Structural Engineer– Tony Hogg Design Ltd.
  • Fabricator– Base structures
  • Fabric– Trapeze Plus Lycra
  • Lighting– DBN lighting Ltd.
  • Client– Manchester International Festival

Design of the Chamber Music Hall

The Chamber Music Hall is a small and intimate space intended for the representation of Bach’s musical works only. It represents the contemporary version of the ancient hall in which the patrons of the eighteenth century listened to the music they had commissioned. In addition to this, the concept of the design was to cocoon performers and the audience within an intimate fluid space. Moreover, the design incorporates dramatic lighting effects. The music pavilion was for a capacity of 192 seats.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
Design of the Chamber music hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall

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The scale & functionality of the Chamber Music Hall

The structure of the music hall is a huge ribbon that spirals around the room, floating above the stage and then cascading onto the floor and finally closing in on the audience. Therefore, the original space transforms into a soft sculpture. As the ribbon wraps around itself, it creates a layering of spaces and functions. The scale of the ribbon makes it look both like an object floating in a room as well as a temporal architecture that invites one to enter, inhabit and explore.

The circular flow of the ribbon determines the subdivision of the spaces. The visual connection gradually unlashes with the multiple layers of the ribbon. When the hall is not in use, programmed lighting and a series of dispersed musical recordings activate the spaces between the ribbon. In addition to this, the whole installation is transportable and fit for reuse in other venues. The structure functions again at further chamber music festivals in Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall

Form of the Chamber Music Hall

The music of JS Bach inspires the form of the music hall. It translates the intricate relationships of Bach’s harmonies into an architectural spatial form. A single continuous ribbon of fabric creates an intimate fluid space. This fluid form encloses both performer and audience in a closed cocoon. According to the architect, the form of the building ‘enhances the multiplicity of Bach’s work through a coherent integration of formal and structural logic’.

The design uses a single voluminous ribbon of fabric that continuously stretches, compresses, as well as swirls around itself. The surface of the fabric shell is undulating and changes rhythm constantly. This ‘constant yet changing rhythm’ creates the effect of soft waves.

The fluid form of the Chamber Music Hall

As the ribbon careens above the performer, cascades into the ground, and wraps around the audience, the original room as a box sculpts into fluid spaces swelling, merging, and slipping through one another. The organic shape of the music hall weaves a bewildering, overlapping, as well as multi-layered path through the auditorium. In addition to this, the form of the music hall divides and encloses the space, creating a stage, enclosure for the audience, and passages into and out of the fluid space.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
The sculptural form of the Music Hall

Design concerns

In order to retain the hall’s functional integrity, a lot of architectural challenges required resolution. Some of them are scale, structure, and acoustics. The architectural elements of design must go in harmony with the musical experience in the hall.

These architectural considerations were necessary to develop a dynamic formal dialogue inseparable from its intended purpose as an intimate chamber music hall. Another design concern was to create a stable, engineered structure that required the minimum amount of support.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
Ribbon cocoons the audience and performer

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The acoustics of the Chamber Music Hall

Sandy Brown Associates worked as an acoustic consultant in the design of the music hall. In addition to the exceptional design and structure, the music hall must provide clear acoustics for the audience viewing the concerts.  According to Sandy Brown Associates, ‘The challenge of the project was to take a gallery space primarily designed for visual art and help Zaha Hadid Architects in their vision to convert it into a modern extraordinary new performance space for chamber music.

CAD model for the JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
CAD model for the JS Bach Chamber Music Hall

The different finishes and shapes of the curving form finalize using CAD models and acoustic modeling software. It is through this practice that the curving ribbon creates both a strong architectural statement and a great acoustic environment. The ribbon form thus helps to scatter the sound reflections between parallel walls within the gallery to eliminate flutter echoes and provide a more even diffuse sound for audience members.

Reverberation Time of the Music Hall

Moreover, for optimum conditions of chamber music the reverberation time (a measure of how long it takes for sound to decay in a room), should not be too long or too short. In both cases, it affects the quality of the music. The designers, therefore, looked at achieving a reverberation time of 1.4 to 1.7 s at mid-frequencies (500-1000 Hz) with a higher reverberation at lower (bass) frequencies to provide a warm room response.

If we add too many sound-absorbing materials, the sound would lose a lot of its quality. Trials on a variety of materials such as different fabrics, metals, and plastics for their characteristics, in order to enhance the acoustic experience of the audience in the music hall.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall

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Although, the selected gallery space is located towards the rear of the building, away from the noisy rumbling sound of trams passing by the front. The control of noise from the in-house air conditioning system to make it suitable for music was a challenge in itself. In order to regulate the temperature and humidity, the air conditioning remains constant during performances. This problem was taken care of with the help of staff at Manchester Art Gallery. They were particularly helpful in carrying out works behind the scenes to help reduce noise intrusion to the new performance space. Moreover, the existing ceiling and the large void behind it provided a significant amount of acoustic absorption.

Around the stage, specially shaped acrylic reflector panels have been carefully positioned and hidden within the fabric of the installation. These are designed to reflect sound with a short delay back towards the performer and out towards the audience to increase the clarity and strength of the music while maintaining the reverberant response of the room.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall


The ribbon was made of a translucent lightweight elastic synthetic fabric membrane (150 g/m2). The material was capable of being compressed to the thickness of a handrail as well as stretched to enclose the full height of the hall. Moreover, an internal steel structure is suspended from the ceiling to articulate the whole form. Clear unobtrusive, acrylic acoustic panels were suspended above the stage to reflect and disperse sound.

JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
The ribbon is made of translucent elastic fabric membrane
The stainless steel structure is suspended from the ceiling
JS Bach Chamber Music Hall
The fluid form of the music hall

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