Planning for the building began in 2003; the cornerstone was officially laid in 2007; and construction got rolling in 2008. Although workers officially topped off the building in April 2010, it’s still far from completion.
From a distance, the Elbphilharmonie looks like massive, gleaming ship presiding over Hamburg’s busy harbor. Closer up, the roof swoops and bows like crashing waves, punctured by textured, iridescent glass panels. Viewed from different angles, the building’s shape takes on a completely different complexion, with its sharp, sheer walls and that undulating roof.
The mixed-use building will contain a large concert hall that seats 2,150 on the top floors; 45 residential apartments; a 250-room hotel; a public plaza; and a 500-car garage. An 82-meter (269-foot) escalator will climb the six floors from ground level to the sixth-floor plaza in about four minutes, giving visitors time to take in sweeping views of the harbor and city.
There are several challenges associated with the site on which Elbphilharmonie is being built. First, it is being built on top of the base of an existing building, the Kaispeicher warehouse, making it, at least superficially, an adaptive-reuse project. In the first stages of construction, the old warehouse was completely gutted, leaving only the outer brick walls, and 650 steel-reinforced concrete piles were installed to strengthen the foundation. The majority of the building’s parking is located in the brick-faced base, as well as a small concert hall and a museum.
The building’s façade, which is mostly in place now, will consist of roughly 1,100 different window panes, almost all of which have reflective patterns printed on them, creating a frosted, iridescent effect that will help cool the building. Many of the windows have deep curves and indents with small hatches to let air in. Large U-shaped gaps in the windows are inset balconies in the hotel and apartment portion of the building, and they’re meant to resemble tuning forks.