Acoustics play a vital role in helping create a sizzling atmosphere at sporting arenas and concert venues. So what is being done to help both the performer and spectator experience at this year’s Australian Open?

The newly redeveloped Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park posed a number of unique challenges for the acoustic design team at Marshall Day.

The three-year construction project saw the transformation of the previous outdoor show court into a 7,500-seat multi-purpose entertainment venue which will not only be a world-class tennis venue but will also be used year-round for music concerts, netball and basketball.

The project had a few set requirements:

  • The completed venue needed to be flexible and balance the requirements of many different events, e.g. a lively dynamic atmosphere for sports events and an ‘acoustically’ dead environment for amplified music concerts
  • The construction work needed to be suspended for three months each year to allow the 2013 and 2014 Australian Opens to take place
  • The new arena needed to physically and technically integrate with the existing site and adjoining venues

The centrepiece to the redeveloped arena is the new retractable roof, which provides protection for the world’s best tennis players from sun/heat or rain during the Australian Open, allowing the show to go on whatever the weather. The new roof is the fastest retractable roof of its kind in the world, going from fully open to fully closed in just five minutes.

Retractable Roof in Closed Position

Retractable roof in closed position
Images courtesy of: ‘Peter Glenane/HiVis Pictures’

To ensure that the roof would fulfil the acoustic requirements of the arena’s new function as a multi-purpose venue, specific consideration was given to the internal soffit of the roof, which was constructed using specially designed thick acoustic insulation behind perforated ceiling panels. The system absorbs undesirable sound reflections inside the arena to optimize acoustic conditions for sports events as well as providing world-class acoustics for the arena’s new function as a concert venue.

The venue’s acoustics were modelled during the design stage using cutting edge ray-tracing analysis techniques including Grasshopper. The thickness, density and type of materials were chosen (and laboratory tested to verify their acoustic performance) specifically to optimise the acoustics of the venue.

To comply with environmental noise regulations, the roof also includes an environmentally friendly acoustic barrier made from wheat/rice straw fibres that works to contain high sound levels from music concerts inside the venue.

The product is called Durra Panel by Ortech Industries. It is 50 millimetres thick, and has the added benefit of being trafficable, which significantly helped with the construction of the top section of the roof

Finally, to allow the roof the open and close so quickly, the roof edges needed to accommodate the large vertical and lateral deflections which occur when moving such a large structure.  The solution the team came up with was to design an innovative acoustic roof edge details to control noise spill from the venue whilst allowing the centrepiece roof to move unimpeded, which as far as the acoustic engineers are aware, has never been used before for a retractable roof anywhere in the world.