music with design

A local music hall has elevated design by providing near perfect acoustics in a large facility using wood panelling. 

The Chris Seabrooke Music Hall at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), together with the Wits Art Museum (WAM) and the Wits Theatre, form a cultural interface with Braamfontein and the city of Johannesburg.  

Designed by Cohen and Garson Architects, the building is located within the Wits School of Arts precinct of Braamfontein Campus East, on the corner of Jorissen and Station Streets, in Braamfontein. 

Although the hall serves the Wits Music Department, it also provides a unique music venue for the public. “It is the only facility of its size in Johannesburg, designed with modern acoustics, specifically for live music,” discloses Nina Cohen, director at Cohen and Garson Architects. 

From outside in 

music with design

The interior walls of the building are lined in a woven timber lattice, in a modular system consisting of five standard panels.

The exterior of the building is designed as a solid cube, holding the corner site. Connecting the music hall with WAM, the same dark brown (Onyx) brick was used for the exterior walls. Its solidity functions as a sound barrier, preventing the traffic and other city sounds on this bustling corner from penetrating the building. 

In contrast to the outside brickwork, the interior walls of the building are lined in a woven timber lattice. “This wall treatment was designed in close collaboration with Ivan Lin of LINSPACE acoustic engineers,” says Cohen. 

Using timber to create a baffle / timber lattice baffle design  

The timber lattice is a modular system consisting of five standard panels. Its jagged design is purposed to create a non-parallel baffle to deflect the music from the stage. These panels are arranged in random combination, with the only governing principal being that the triangulations of the timber strips become deeper the higher they are located on the wall. This forms a panelled wall which slopes inward, ideal for acoustic purposes. 

The non-parallel balcony and stair walls also assist with the acoustics of the space. The curved ceiling panels were positioned to maximise sound re-direction, to facilitate natural sound propagation without the need for sound amplification. 

Hardwood lattice 

music with design

The Music Hall building is located within the Wits School of Arts precinct, on the corner of Jorissen and Station Streets, Braamfontein.

Reclaimed rubberwood was chosen for the lattice structure, due to its sound properties. Several different wood samples were considered to find one that was aesthetically acceptable, within the budget and that sounded acoustically right. “We listened to almost 20 different wood samples, to come up with this one, in a process that is done around in many concert halls around the world,” explains Ivan Lin of LINSPACE. 

For Lin, the space is designed to be a part of the music, performing as one of the instruments. For example, the endpin of the cello sits on the stage, and because of the acoustic qualities, the stage becomes a diaphragm for the cello. “This was a dream realised, and a very special project for me,” he says. 

Repurposed heritage 

The lobby of the Music Hall is a repurposed heritage building. “It is one of the few remaining, first semi-detached workers’ houses in Braamfontein,” Cohen reveals. 

Below the hall is a basement housing a Green Room for performers, an instrument storeroom, an archive, and a platform lift to position the grand piano on the stage and remove it when required. Above the hall is a large rehearsal space. 

A new lightweight structure has been built on the roof of the adjoining building to the east. This space contains music department offices and practice rooms. “The entire building below will be renovated to house the Wits Music Department,” concludes Cohen. 

A unique timber acoustic success due to the collaboration between architect and acoustician, where the design and intent were integrated, with neither being sacrificed.  


For more information, contact: 

Cohen and Garson Architects 

Tel: +27 11 646 7684 




Tel: +27 11 886 7693 



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