The Perth Concert Hall is situated between St Georges Terrace and Terrace Road, it is located near Government House, the Supreme Court Gardens and the Swan Bells, with a view to the Swan River.
The Perth Concert Hall was constructed between 1971 and 1973 on land that was originally part of the Government Domain. It was built by Sabemo (WA) Pty Ltd to a design by architects Jeffrey Howlett and Don Bailey. The building was opened in January 1973.
Since its construction, the venue has been in continuous use as a centre for musical performance, and for other events such as school and university graduation ceremonies, business conventions and civic functions.
As early as 1950, the City of Perth secured a site between Stirling Gardens and Government House, occupied by the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the construction of a new town hall. The proposed site provoked vigorous public debate. Some wanted a riverside site, such as the Esplanade or Barracks Square, while others suggested land at the end of Barrack Street, between Stirling and Beaufort Streets, or the central Perth are between William and Barrack streets along Forrest Place.
The official opening of the Perth Concert Hall included a midnight to dawn ball attended by almost 1,700 people. The Western Australian Symphony Orchestra was joined by 55 members of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra for the occasion, and the whole event was televised. Headlines of ‘A Milestone in the Cultural Life of WA’ greeted the opening. Earlier, John Birman, the Director of the Festival of Perth, had been quoted saying, ‘...it is the first concert hall in Australia since the war and has more than local significance...’.
Chronology of Development
1950 City of Perth secured land between Stirling Gardens and Government House for the construction of a new town hall.
1955 Contest to design new town hall (offices and auditorium) for City of Perth announced.
1960 Concept but not design of contest prize winners, Howlett and Bailey, purchased by the City of Perth. The concept was for two separate buildings – a ten-story administrative building and a circular auditorium.
1962 Only the administrative block (Council House) was built due to financial constraints and concern over the design of the auditorium.
1966 Sir Thomas Wardle sold his Capitol Theatre to the City of Perth to make way for a car park. The Capitol was the main concert venue in Perth and home of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
1967 State government and the City of Perth formed a special committee to consider the matter of a concert hall. The committee considered ten sites and decided on the abandoned Chevron-Hilton site as the most appropriate. Lengthy negotiations ensued as the City of Perth wanted a combined town hall and concert hall on the site; the State government was not prepared to provide the land and contribute to this – it wanted a concert hall only.
1968 City of Perth settled on the construction of a concert hall only and the State Government offered Chevron-Hilton site, $1,000,000 towards construction of a concert hall and 50% of its operating costs. Architects Jefferey Howlett and Don Bailey appointed to design a concert hall in July.
1969 The Chevron-Hilton site (Lot 853/Reserve 30347) was vested in the City of Perth for the purpose of the concert hall, public restaurant and parking area. Final plans were presented to the City of Perth in January. The total cost of the project was budgeted at $3.1 million dollars.
1970 State Government increased its contribution to the project to $1,350,000 Sabemo awarded the tender of $3,201,873 for construction in April and work on site commenced on 12 June; John Sherwood acted as Project Manager; local companies such as Hollostone Pty Ltd, Midland Brick and Millars Timber provided materials.
1972 Construction completed  and keys ceremoniously handed over to the manager, Nigel Prescott, in December; at this time, conferences had been booked as far ahead as 1974, and the total bookings for the Hall's first year ‘already exceeded 100’.
1973 Official opening and first concert on Australia Day, 26 January. Attended by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Mrs Whitlam. This occasion also marked the Festival of Perth's 21st Anniversary Commonwealth Taxation office completed on adjacent site.
1980 Perth Theatre Trust formed to bring His Majesty's Theatre and the Perth Concert Hall under a single administration. [Other venues, Playhouse Theatre and Subiaco Arts Centre, subsequently included.] Perth Concert Hall leased to the Perth Theatre Trust.
1982 Completion of work to extend into VIP car park area to provide additional office accommodation (Oldfield Knott Architects).
1984 Forecourt landscaped (hobbs Winning Leighton Architects). Commonwealth Family Law Courts constructed on adjacent site to Concert Hall (rear of the Commonwealth Taxation Office).
1985 Cooling towers in air conditioning replaced.
1987 Small garden and path in north-west corner of site developed by the City of Perth.
c.1988 Concert Hall re-roofed.
1989 New office layout (Cohen and Waller Architects).
c.1992 Restaurant refurbished; asbestos removed (Palassis Architects).
1994 New artists’ facility completed (Palassis Architects).
1998 Replacement of air conditioning and relocation of plant to north-east corner of VIP car park.
1999 Pedestrian link between Commonwealth Family Law Courts and Concert Hall completed.
April 2008 - December 2008 Major upgrades to the concrete exterior of the concert hall. This includes the installation of scaffolding, cement and concrete works and installation of new exterior lighting. Originally expected to be completed in October 2008, the entire works are expected to be finished by early December 2008.
The building was designed by Howlett and Bailey Architects. Jeffrey Howlett and Don Bailey had won a design competition for a Town Hall and auditorium in 1961. Their design consisted of two buildings, one containing administrative offices and the other, oval in shape, comprising the 'town hall' or auditorium. The administration offices, called Council House, were built, however financial constraints and doubts regarding the auditorium's acoustic properties meant that construction of the auditorium building was delayed. Its design was subsequently re-considered and it was not until the late-1960s that a different plan was approved. This plan was ...to accommodate not more than 2,000 people and to cost no more than $2,000,000 and with the highest priority to be given to its musical uses, i.e. Symphony concerts, choral concerts, organ recitals, etc., and, in addition, performances of minimum staged ballet, fold dances or musical drama, and also be suitable for other functions such as large Civic receptions, conferences, conventions, public meetings, pageants, school speech days, pop concerts and folk singers.
Through 1969, the architectural plans were amended several times. These amendments included beautification and landscaping of the main pedestrian approach from St Georges Terrace and construction of a subway under the Terrace, a pit for a 60-piece orchestra with removable flooring and seating to cover the pit when not in use, and improved access and facilities for disabled people. The original plans included a restaurant with a seating capacity for 400, but following inspection of similar halls in the eastern states of Australia, it was decided that this was not warranted. It was, therefore, decided to make the restaurant smaller and include a tavern and cocktail bar, allowing patrons a wider choice. The car area was named The Wardle Room, after Sir Thomas Wardle.
It was the architects’ intention that the exhibition foyers would be used as a continually changing venue for all types of art (such as painting, tapestry and sculpture exhibitions) rather than as permanent exhibition spaces. This may have influenced the Perth City Council's indecision over whether or not to accept artist Sydney Nolan's offer to permanently loan the City a series of 64 paintings of wildflowers for hanging in the Hall. After considerable public debate over the matter, Nolan withdrew the offer and art dealers and others criticised the short sighted and parochial attitude of the Council in refusing the offer. Ironically, the first exhibition in the foyers featured 54 of Sydney Nolan's wildflower paintings.
Several consultants were involved in the design of the building, including acoustic consultants, structural engineers, and experts in escalators, stage machinery and lighting. D. H. Fraser was responsible for the structural design and Professor A. Harold Marshall was the acoustics consultant, in association with Warwick Mehaffey of the ABC.
Dr Marshall used computer modelling to predict how well people would hear in each of the seats and worked closely with the architects in designing the main auditorium, which according to Jefferey Howlett had to be ...a Great Room, as the Concertgebouw hall in Amsterdam, the Boston Symphony Hall and the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna are great rooms, recognised for their superb acoustic and that is not merely clarity...The great halls have ornate ceilings and other ornamentation. Though the Perth Concert Hall will be a completely modern building, the "fruity" ceilings and decorations of the older halls, which undoubtedly play a part in their acoustics, will be reproduced, in effect, in coffers hanging from the ceiling, in corrugated walls and in the complex double tier of boxes sloping up the side walls.
The Perth Concert Hall is an example of brutalist architecture, with its solid opaque interior, giant projecting roof, and use of white off-form concrete. It forms a counterpoint to the transparent filigree of Council House.
The auditorium features a specially commissioned 3000-pipe organ surrounded by a 160-person choir gallery and an audience seating capacity of 1,729. The organ, individually designed, cost $100,000 and was commissioned by Ronald Sharp of Sydney, who was also responsible for the organ at the Sydney Opera House. The larger pipes for the organ were imported from Holland. Don Bailey recollects that Ron Sharp was an ‘extraordinarily talented person, largely self-educated, who has to his credit the design and construction of a number of organs, mostly in New South Wales. A nine-foot Steinway orchestral concert grand piano (Model D) was also imported from West Germany for installation in the Hall.
The Concert Hall was the first in Australia to have closed circuit television so that late comers could watch on two screens in the foyer while waiting for an appropriate time to enter. Another screen was in the office of the manager.
The Perth City Council and State Government, as well as the architects and builders, received many compliments on the Hall as it neared completion from visiting experts in the fields of music, architecture and construction.