Drapery specialists J&C Joel recently completed the installation of a set of motorized acoustic drapes for the new Music School and Concert Hall at Millfield School in Street, Somerset, England.

The opening of the new Music School and Concert Hall demonstrates Millfield's ongoing commitment to the Arts, and incorporates a 350-seat concert venue, rehearsal areas for all their ensembles, six classrooms, 25 teaching/practice rooms, recording studios, and specialist percussion rooms.

The new main performance space has been designed to offer both acoustically correct music or drama performances and is able to quickly transform the acoustics in order to suit the specific type of performance taking place. J&C Joel’s contract manager Tony Griffiths initially assessed the situation, and proposed a twin Triple E motorized Unirail system for the two sidewalls, along with a motorized Chain Track for the rear wall.

This would normally be a straightforward enough design and installation operation, but the 30m long side walls feature a series of twist, turns, curves, and recesses, all of which had to be negotiated by the curtains on the track.

This necessitated a very precise measuring operation, which was the most challenging aspect of the entire project, according to Richard Turner, J&C Joel’s project coordinator. Griffiths and Turner also had to ensure that the timber acoustic panels lining the walls were left untouched and not cosmetically compromised in any way.

Griffiths explains that the Unirail was chosen because of its solid build, streamlined appearance, and motorized properties. A linear motor unit allows the 30m long x 8m drop of Midnight Blue heavy will serge curtains to sashay around the track, gliding silently and effortlessly through the complex curves and contours of the ceiling.

Another huge advantage was having a totally invisible power tail. The motor requires no steel cables for operation and has locating rings sewn onto the reverse side of the curtains. All that can be seen is the motor and curtain behind it, leaving everything in front totally clean and clear.

To store and conceal the curtains when not in use, a front façade was built onto the back wall of the concert hall. This also has acoustic properties and needed draping, giving Griffiths and Turner the additional challenge of masking it with a motorized system that could also be stored on the reverse side of a wall—only a mere 300 mm thick. Triple E Chain Track, designed to provide a diameter as low as 100 mm, provided the answer. A continuous motorized Chain Track was installed on both front and rear faces of the wall, allowing a 12m wide by 7m drop curtain to be in full view when needed, or alternatively hidden/stored on the reverse side.

J&C Joels also specified a simple remote controller, similar to a TV remote, that allows the Millfield staff to operate the system.

Griffiths concludes, “The great thing about our industry is the challenge of every contract, and confirming to a client that we can do what they need. In essence, the greater the challenge, the more satisfaction the completed project brings.”