News Feature

Elbphilharmonie

'A concert hall that will wow the world' Herzog & de Meuron’s shimmering Elbphilharmonie opens at last


One of Europe’s most significant new cultural buildings opened to the public on 11 January with a special concert for 1,000 ticket winners.

The Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, by Swiss architecture studio Herzog & de Meuron, is formed of a shimmering glass-covered volume – consisting of 1,100 individual panes – built on top of the original brick structure of an industrial warehouse on the city’s harbour side.

The structure is home to a Westin Hotel, two small music venues and a 37m- (121.4ft-) high public plaza and observation deck, but the main draw is the new world-class concert hall which seats 2,100 spectators across its interwoven tiers.

THE TECHNICAL SPECS
The 12,500-tonne venue, which is housed in the heart of the glass volume, rests on 362 giant spring assemblies to decouple it from the rest of the building. It rises 50m (164 ft) and includes a vast organ built into the walls. To ensure acoustic excellence, 11,000 uniquely-textured sound-modulating gypsum panels, conceived with Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, have been painstakingly assembled.

Speaking late last year, city mayor Olaf Scholz said: “Hamburg is a city of music, and you could call this its parliament. It is a concert hall that will wow the world.”

Over the years of construction, the building has become a landmark on the Hamburg skyline, inspiring a wide range of merchandise in the city based on the silhouette of the instantly recognisable 7,000sq m (75,347sq ft) roof, which consists of eight spherical, concavely bent sections.

The opening nights featured performances by the hall’s resident NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra and a selection of classical singers, including bass baritone Sir Bryn Terfel.

Spectators enter via the building’s elegantly curving elevator, which rises towards the elevated public plaza over the course of two minutes. The architects’ idea was to make sure there are no doors blocking people at any point from their journey from the outside of the building all the way into the concert hall.

“It’s a stunning experience to be in this building,” senior partner Ascan Mergenthaler told CLAD. “It’s like a little city. You literally flow into the building, and the outside world is part of that journey until the very last moment.”

KEEPING THE FAITH
Summarising the experience of working on the project, which took over a decade to complete, Mergenthaler said: “Sometimes you almost feel it’s a dead end. But you have to believe there’s a way out, and you have to fight for it. That saved us. We had faith we’d have a happy ending and survived by finding a solution together.

“It’s tough building. I don’t think it will go out of fashion, because it was never in fashion. It is what it is. It’s there in the unique location of the harbour and it fulfils the promise of being a house for everybody.”

The cost of the project was reportedly E860m – over 10 times the original budget of E77m, which the architects have conceded was never realistic given the scale of the project.

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