Nuts and bolts and music

Tonhalle Maag in West Zurich

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

In 2018, Zurich’s 100-strong Tonhalle orchestra celebrated 100 years since its founding. The centenary fell in a time of transition: The previous year, the orchestra’s home, the venerable old Tonhalle on Lake Zurich, had to be vacated for renovation. The interim base of the orchestra until 2020 is a former cogwheel factory in West Zurich. Known as Tonhalle Maag, it was converted into a concert hall at a cost of only 10 million Swiss francs.

Now into its second season, Zurich’s new arts venue is garnering plenty of praise, despite the initial misgivings of many loyal and regular patrons of the old Tonhalle. After all, the latter venue is idyllically located at a tranquil spot on Lake Zurich. But urgent improvements needed to be made to the stage technology, fire protection and backstage, so it was closed for extensive refurbishment in 2017. And the orchestra went into exile – to the fashionable west of the city, the bustling site of many bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

The former industrial quarter Kreis 5 has undergone a complete transformation since the ‘80s. The factories and businesses which used to populate the area were sold, closed, demolished or moved away. In their place, clubs and bars were set up, which have attracted a young crowd to the quarter ever since.

Change of scene

The old Maag hall, named after the company founder, is a testimony to these changes. A building wing with a triangular layout, it used to house a factory for cogwheels, gears and pumps. The large halls where mechanical parts were machined to precision from 1913 to 1991 were pitch black.

By the ‘90s, the factory offices and workshops had become vacant and were offered for rent. Among the new tenants to move in was a disco. The factory became an event location. Despite its conversion into the interim Tonhalle, many traces of the past were preserved. In the 313m² large hall, which also houses a bar, a large mirror hangs from old steel girders; chandeliers reflect each other’s light; the old stage platform is still used today. The juxtaposition of many historical components with modern materials and design has resulted in an appealing blend of styles.

However, the decision to only modernize where necessary was partly made of necessity: The makers had a comparatively low budget of 10 million Swiss francs for the entire conversion.

The supporting association Tonhalle Gesellschaft Zürich started looking for alternative premises in late 2014. Once the Maag grounds had been found, the whole process from planning to completion was set to take three years. Work started in January 2017; the concert hall had been installed in the former event location within just three months. On 27 September 2017, the Tonhalle Maag opened its doors to the public.

Compact spatial structure

For Friedemann Dürrschnabel, who has been responsible for technology and coordination in the Tonhalle Maag since 2017, the interim venue has many advantages. The musicians and technicians are delighted about the short distances between the different areas, allowing sets to be changed faster and more easily. “For setting up and dismantling, the new concert hall can be accessed and entered from two sides. That makes every set-up much faster than in the old Tonhalle, which is on the first floor. Access to the outside and to the new cargo lift in the cellar is ideal.” The overall design of the building is functional; the rooms around the hall for stores, direction etc. are ideally placed and make the best possible use of the limited space.

The concert hall, a flexible space with a level floor, can be adapted to host various forms of events and stage situations thanks to a screw-grid – from banquets to stadium events, everything is possible. The 784 seats in the stalls can be completely converted or dismantled in the space of two hours (by about ten technicians); of 440 seats in the surrounding gallery, 56 seats on each long side can be removed. The stage (18.4m wide, 10.8m deep and with an extendable apron of 1.78 m) consists of custom-made plug foot pedestals, supplemented by four mobile Solodrive lifting platforms.

The structural shell of the concert hall is acoustically decoupled and installed in the factory hall according to the box-in-a-box principle, with steel supports and wooden panels. Within the classic rectangular hall, diffuse sound-absorbing wall and ceiling panels ensure excellent sound quality. A total of 70 filigree wooden panels hang from the ceiling, 24 of them over the stage. They are slightly convex and can be adjusted as required.


Looking ahead, Dürrschnabel would like to keep the Maag: “We want to become a vital part of this quarter and generate demand.” The hall is a very special place that attracts both young and old audiences. Its outstanding qualities as a venue are high flexibility and opportunities for a wide range of uses, which the Tonhalle team intends to purposefully develop.

Currently, however, it is uncertain what will happen to the Maag when the Tonhalle orchestra moves back to its original home. A feasibility study commissioned by the city council has shown that there is demand for a second concert hall in Zurich.’s hope there is a future for the Tonhalle Maag in this lively, evolving quarter beyond the year 2020. The welcoming, functional building is a great venue that fulfils many expectations – far beyond those of a mere temporary solution. The concert hall has proven to be a godsend for Zurich’s music and arts scene, and it might set a precedent for affordable interim venues elsewhere.

BTR Ausgabe 2 2019
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 280
von Iris Abel