Manchester International Festival (MIF) is an artist-led, commissioning festival which presents new works from the performing arts, visual arts and popular culture. As part of the 2009 festival, Zaha Hadid Architects was commissioned to design a contemporary salon to house solo performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. The installation was to be housed in a 25m x 17m ‘black box’ in the Manchester Art Gallery. Zaha Hadid Architects responded with a stunning design consisting of a 110m long white ribbon which would wrap itself around both the stage and the audience, creating a dynamic yet intimate performance space.
Zaha Hadid is one of the most extraordinary, innovative and creative designers to work with textile architecture. Each piece designed by her team is a head turning, award winning revelation. We have collaborated on a number of projects and each time our creativity in design and manufacture as well as the technical capabilities in the fabric are challenged to their very limits. The results are awe inspiring brilliance.
Jack Thompson, Technical Director, MIF
Tracey Low, Senior Producer, MIF
Melodie Leung, Architect, Zaha Hadid Architects
Gerhild Orthacker, Architect, Zaha Hadid Architects
Kevin Hemmings, Architect, Base Structures
Andy Traynor, Installation Director, Base Structures
Tony Hogg, Engineer, Tony Hogg Design
Benedict Whybrow, Designer, Tony Hogg Design
Michael Whitcroft, Acoustic Engineer, Sandy Brown Associates
Nick Croker & Paul Thomas, Site Supervisors, Base Structures
Having already successfully collaborated on the Serpentine Gallery project, Zaha Hadid Architects approached Base to gain the team’s technical expertise on the design’s buildability – with the performance of the ‘ribbon’ being pivotal to its function. Transport ability was another consideration for Base, as the installation would also be reinstalled in other venues.
Base’s recommendation was to combine a light aluminium frame with a stretch Lycra® fabric skin. With preliminary costs coming within budget, Zaha Hadid Architects commissioned Base to develop the design through to cost certainty.
The first challenge for Base was to transform the architect’s complex 3D model into a buildable structure that retained all the fluidity of the original design. With the help of experienced tensile engineers Tony Hogg Design, Base constructed a framework that replicated the model exactly. And to be certain of the fabric’s suitability, Base fabricated and wrapped a prototype section of the frame to test fabric compensations.
For the ‘ribbon’ to perform as intended, it was imperative that a smooth change of curvature was maintained throughout the structure. So Base’s solution featured a series of eye shaped rib frames, connected with a top and bottom rail each rolled to a specific radius. Speed of installation was essential too, so turned nylon spigots were employed to connect the frames with a push fit connection. Likewise the fabric was designed to be applied rapidly by only having nine ‘fields’ which were zipped together with a discrete plastic closure, utilising Base’s expertise from the banner finishing side of its business.
The frame was hung by 2.5mm stainless steel cables from suspension points in the gallery ceiling, incorporating an easy to adjust fastener. Base also supplied the stage platform and fitted rigid acoustic reflector panels inside parts of the ribbon, directed by acoustic engineers, Sandy Brown Associates. The structure was installed in three days with two teams of four riggers, working day and night shifts.
The result was a single continuous ribbon which swirled around one of the main rooms in the Manchester Art Gallery, creating layered spaces cocooning both performers and the audience. Base’s successful realisation of Zaha Hadid Architect’s design was largely due to the combined experience of the team, ranging from engineering; detail design; fabrication of the frame; assembly of the fabric; and the professional site crew. The project’s triumph was also recognised by one arts critic in particular, stating that the structure not only worked as a sculptural object but acoustically as a chamber music venue. The structure has since visited the Amsterdam Festival in 2010 and is due to continue its tour, scheduled for a visit to Abu Dhabi in March 2011.
It has been a pleasure to work with Base Structures on the J.S. Bach Chamber Music Hall. They have a positive attitude and flexible approach towards challenging proposals. Their creativity, breadth of experience, and attention to detail were invaluable to the success of the project.