Consonance in chaos: Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio

DOMANI Architectural Concepts sheds light on their subversion of norms in the harmoniously dissonant assembly of wood panels framing this studio in Guangzhou, China.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Apr 05, 2022

Spontaneity, disorder, and improvisation are all essential facets of the art of musical composition. Capturing the intricacies and idiosyncrasies brought forth by a spontaneous act of creation is a vital element in recording performances, and by extension, the spaces that play host to this process. “A great studio space should meet professional standards in the acoustic aspects, as the space is for professional use. And the design should be a response to the client’s brief in terms of functionality, spatial experience, or for marketing and communication purposes,” shares Chinese design practice, DOMANI Architectural Concepts, while speaking to STIR about their unique vision for the new Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio in Guangzhou, China. Situated on the fourth floor of the famed Guangzhou Opera House - designed by Zaha Hadid Architects - the two-storey space is defined by a panoply of irregular wood panels that line the walls in a seemingly chaotic fashion.

The space features a panoply of irregular wood panels that represent the improvisational aspects of musical composition | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
The space features a panoply of irregular wood panels that represent the improvisational aspects of musical composition Image: Vincent Wu

However, behind this apparent lack of order is a carefully constructed ensemble that meets all the necessary acoustic requirements, while offering a space with its own distinct character for musicians to harness and push their creativity to new heights. Giving form to the spontaneity and improvisational spirit of musical performance was one of the key parameters that drove the design, and its crystallisation in the immersive spectacle of the now complete studio is an ode to the sheer beauty produced in moments of impulsive creation, where disparate elements congruently fall into place, defying explanation or preconceptions.

This apparent lack of order conceals a carefully constructed environment that caters to all the functional and acoustic requirements demanded of it | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
This apparent lack of order conceals a carefully constructed environment that caters to all the functional and acoustic requirements demanded of it Image: Vincent Wu

With this key goal in mind, DOMANI Architectural Concepts' design strives to break away from the traditional image of a recording studio, envisioning new paradigms for a spatial typology that is often reduced to bare, controlled environments framed by wood panelling or sound absorbing foam. The firm reveals, “The design brief was to build a professional mixed-use music studio that featured a big live room, several recording rooms for different parts or instruments in a chamber orchestra, and workspaces for music production. It also had to be aesthetically creative, in order to refresh our impressions of a traditional studio, while fulfilling strict acoustic criteria."

  • DOMANI Architectural Concepts set out to deviate from the norms associated with recording studios while developing the space | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
    DOMANI Architectural Concepts set out to deviate from the norms associated with recording studios while developing the space Image: Vincent Wu
  • The design brief and the subsequent interior scheme created by the firm, posited an aesthetically creative space that accounted for all acoustic considerations | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
    The design brief and the subsequent interior scheme created by the firm, posited an aesthetically creative space that accounted for all acoustic considerations Image: Vincent Wu

On this note, the use of wood within the space subverts the conventions associated with a material familiar to this typology, instead manifesting a visual depiction of chaos in the form of a jumbled assortment of geometrically-designed panels, that clash, compete, and complement one another in a harmoniously dissonant medley. Visually, the layered assembly of irregular panels makes it seem as if the walls and ceiling are collapsing in on themselves, bringing an air of tension and urgency (essential elements in all pieces of music) to the spatial composition.

Irregular wood panels, arranged in a layered fashion, subvert conventions associated with the material in a studio context | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
Irregular wood panels, arranged in a layered fashion, subvert conventions associated with the material in a studio context Image: Vincent Wu

Regarding the methods through which this vision was brought to life, the firm reveals, “DOMANI's design process first started from the aesthetic perspective. We aimed to build a chaotic structure with an astonishing appearance that seemed to be randomly generated, which visualised the spontaneous aspect of the process of music composition, or any other kind of creative work." They continue, “Later the proposal was examined by associate acoustic professionals and we worked together to adjust the arrangement of the panels in terms of forms or positions. The thickness of the wooden material on the walls and ceiling was a major factor affecting the sound. So we used slatted panels to balance form and function."

The two-floor expanse of the studio contains a vast live room, in addition to supplementary spaces for production, storage, and recreation | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
The two-floor expanse of the studio contains a vast live room, in addition to supplementary spaces for production, storage, and recreation Image: Vincent Wu

As part of its functional layout, the studio contains a vast live room capable of accommodating large ensemble recordings, with a double-height volume that takes up the majority of the lower floor area. It is supplemented by recording control, storage, and recreation spaces placed along its perimeter. The upper level of the studio hosts a rest area, two smaller studios, an arrangement room, and an assistant’s office.

Materials and panels of different densities were used as part of the acoustic design, with concealed lighting fixtures that complement the overall aesthetic | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
Materials and panels of different densities were used as part of the acoustic design, with concealed lighting fixtures that complement the overall aesthetic Image: Vincent Wu

Besides the spiritual reconsideration of the space that forms an integral facet of the immersive design, its acoustic requirements were also vital to the fulfilment of its functional purpose. “The acoustic design part was assigned to a professional team, who helped to refine the design after we delivered the essential version, ensuring that all the acoustic considerations of the industry were satisfied. It was more of a functional consideration from an overall perspective,” relays DOMANI Architectural Concepts. All materials used throughout the space are first and foremost, sound proof, moisture proof, and anti-static, to be able to control the elasticity of sound waves based on professional requirements. Materials of different densities have also been incorporated into the design, to prevent the interference of standing waves in the recording. Bathing the space in a warm golden aura, concealed lighting design elements have been embedded in and around the wood panels, to avoid detracting from the overall aesthetic effect.

  • DOMANI Architectural Concepts also created bespoke chairs for their intervention | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
    DOMANI Architectural Concepts also created bespoke chairs for their intervention Image: Vincent Wu
  • Featuring bold angles and raw textures, the chairs feature splashes of paint that are meant constitute a feeling of being unfinished and in process | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
    Featuring bold angles and raw textures, the chairs feature splashes of paint that are meant constitute a feeling of being unfinished and in process Image: Vincent Wu

The firm's intervention also extends to the furniture designs that decorate the studio, particularly the experimental '6 degree' chairs, whose angular forms, brimming with raw textures, populate the live room. As the design team explains, “Inspired by the creative process of musicians, just like the interior space itself, we made bespoke chairs out of wood, splashed with dark ink marks as a metaphor for being 'unfinished and in process'. Questioning and conducting an initiative destruction of one's own piece of work, always brings up a thorough examination of the essence of creative practice, from the very beginning of the process, to the outcome it generates."

01 min watch Video showcasing the process by which the chairs were finished | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
Video showcasing the process by which the chairs were finished Video: Courtesy of DOMANI Architectural Concepts

While the appeal of such a drastic departure from the norm may yield varying levels of appreciation from those inhabiting the space, it is no stretch to say that DOMANI’s imaginative take on this typology has yielded a product that is armed with the ability to inspire and awe. After having moulded space and materiality into a dynamic environment capable of shutting out all external stimuli - both literally and figuratively, much like great music - the next phase of the design's life cycle would be a test of its ability to aid users in shaping sound to create timeless art.

Floor Plans | Meilan Music and Small Symphony Recording Studio | DOMANI Architectural Concepts | STIRworld
Floor Plans Image: Courtesy of DOMANI Architectural Concepts

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