Officials have recently unveiled the new design for the Elbphilharmonie, the new home for the Hamburg Philharmonic to be inaugurated in 2012. The concert hall is currently being constructed in the industrial quarter of HafenCity, an area undergoing major revitalization with the conversion of hundreds of dated warehouses. As one of the more understated German cities, Hamburg is hoping the striking design by architects Herzog + de Meuron will bring the sort of landmark cultural transformation that was seen more than a decade ago in Bilbao, Spain with the opening of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. But such a transformation won’t come cheap, with a price tag upwards of 323 million Euros, some are asking “Is it really worth it?”
The new concert hall will tower 300 feet atop a massive triangular shaped brick warehouse crowned with an undulating, curvaceous, inclined glass structure that evokes alluring nautical imagery not unlike that which surrounds it. The sleek glass façade provides a peek into the multifunctional building which in addition to three concert halls, will contain a 250-room hotel, luxury condominiums, international conference areas, a nightclub, a massive parking garage (occupying the base warehouse) and a public plaza for concert-goers and casual passer-bys alike. The thoughtful preservation of existing materials, and the integration of new ones offers a nod to both contemporary and historic port architecture. With its prime position on the waterfront, the Elbphilharmonie also offers unrivaled panoramic views of the Elbe and the harbor to the south and west, the city centre to the north, and HafenCity to the east.
As a concert hall, music certainly takes precedence in this structure. Acoustics were a major focus with ceiling and building materials specifically chosen to induce the best, fullest possible sound, regardless of style. The largest hall features approximately 2,150 seats, and eschews the typical layout of a shoebox stage. It instead opts for a ‘steep cauldron’ shape with the orchestra and conductor positioned in the center and the audience irregularly distributed across rising terraces. To ensure outstanding acoustics, the grand auditorium hall was been designed in collaboration with Yasuhisa Toyota, who has worked on numerous world-renowned concert halls including the Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
Undoubtedly an eye and ear-catching design in true Herzog + de Mueron form, the project is an undertaking that has proved to be as expensive as it is grand. In just the last few months the projected cost of the Elbphilharmonie has ballooned to 323 million Euros and is predicted to reach a half billion Euros by completion. Critics of the project are contending that the money would be better spent on upgrading the city’s social services and infrastructure. Hamburg in fact hosts the second largest port in Europe and despite its position as a commercial and financial pole, the city is pocketed with numerous poor, run-down neighborhoods with immigrant populations hailing from Eastern Europe, Turkey and Afghanistan – not quite the demographic that spends money on concerts and luxury hotel rooms.
However, officials refute that the new venue will not only give the city a much needed aesthetic and cultural overhaul, but will also help unite what is one of Germany’s most socially divided populations. Christoph Lieben-Suetter, the Elbphilharmonie‘s artistic director, stated in favor, “This is a segregated city with completely different worlds from more slum-like parts to more suburban settings. This is exactly what is needed here: a bit of grand craziness.”