Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, Sydney, sits on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and forms part of one of Australia’s historic waterfront precincts. It was once a favourite fishing and cooking spot for Aboriginal communities. In 1921, over a century ago, the site was opened as a cargo loading facility and later departure point for soldiers in World War II.
Today, Pier 2/3 is now part of Sydney’s premier arts precinct and the new home for The Australian Chamber Orchestra. Previously based in a bunker, three floors beneath Circular Quay, their new home is a light-filled purpose-built facility with a concert hall, ‘The Neilson’, for the public to enjoy, along with rehearsal rooms and offices.
Our team has been involved in the project since 2016, supporting the project from concept to completion and providing building services, environmentally sustainable design, theatre planning, security, master planning, acoustics, fire engineering and urban design for the precinct.
Pier 2/3 is also home to the Australian Theatre for Young People and Bell Shakespeare. The project was funded by the NSW Government. Richard Crookes Constructions was appointed as the Managing Contractor. The project was delivered in partnership with Infrastructure NSW and Create NSW.
100+years since Pier 2/3 originally opened
275seat concert hall
Creating a sound-insulated space
Music has been the design focus of The Neilson, the concert hall within the new headquarters, which can host up to 275 audience members. A world-class acoustic was imperative, requiring careful design of every surface in the room along with complex detailing of the building envelope to free the spaces from outside disturbances and distractions.
The Walsh Bay precinct is affected by noise from rail, road and maritime traffic along with regular helicopter overflights. Added to this is the noise generated within the precinct itself and from adjacent spaces, travelling through the air and the structure alike. Various engineering solutions have been implemented to overcome these challenges, including secondary partitions, floating floors, isolated wall partitions and resiliently hung ceilings, effectively creating a ‘room in a room’.
For this to work effectively, every interface between the performance and rehearsal spaces had to be carefully considered to minimise noise transfer.
Acoustic design with hidden messages from composers in braille and Morse Code
The space needed a distinct personality to complement the ACO’s ensemble and wide-ranging repertoire. The building’s heritage timber structure has been retained, with structural beams stretching across the hall and timber columns remaining exposed, providing a unique aesthetic to the space.
Adding to this personality are hidden messages in braille and Morse Code on the walls containing famous quotes from composers, and window frame proportions reflect chord progressions of renowned classical compositions. The physical form of these messages is also a key part of the acoustic design, helping to sweeten the overall sound by adding diffusion.
Theatre planning for all types of performances
The key to designing this project was to create a rich musical experience and a joyous environment for the musicians and audiences, through careful consideration of every design element.
Every surface in The Neilson has many roles to play. Windows provide light but also insulate against noise and provide important acoustic diffusion. Balcony fronts provide safety and sightlines but also hide technical systems and hanging points for drapes. The timber cladding in the ceiling is part of the acoustic diffusion strategy but also hides the large, and quiet, air-conditioning ducting. Retractable tiered seating allows the room to be used in flat-floor mode for different types of events. The seats were carefully selected to provide comfort while meeting stringent acoustic characteristics.
The eastern and western windows provide views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and bring natural light into the auditorium. The individual panes of glass also redirect sound reflections between the parallel glass surfaces that would otherwise result in acoustic distortion.
A place for artists and the community to coexist
The ACO’s new home is a space for everyone. From intimate performances to immersive events for children and families, it is a welcoming space for artists and the community to connect. The programmes created at Pier 2/3 will have a life outside Sydney through livestreams and recordings, providing access to audiences and communities across Australia and the world.