Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie: What’s another year, Elphi?


Haste makes waste. The very first proposal came as early as in 2001. For a while it seemed as though the bride would transmute into a spinster by the time she could be given away – although her prerequisites had been privileged from the beginning. Something old: her massive warehouse brick base stemming from cocoa-traders’ times. Something new: her extravagant self! Something borrowed: generous funds. And something blue: the surrounding waters of Hamburg’s Harbour City (with a bit of cheating on the colour side). Maddeningly slow progress had been made over the years, much controversy stirred, and her engagement phase could well be tagged „Roman“ (definitely more than a day). But now, eventually, the historic day lies within reach and both, family and in-laws, are over the moon.

On January 11 and 12, 2017, the veil for the long yearned-for opening of the Elbphilharmonie will be ceremonially lifted and two memorable concerts played. The audience in the Grand Hall will be shrouded in 6,000 square metres of „White Skin“, a unique wall-to-ceiling membrane devised for the perfect distribution of sound.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg - exterior - Photo: Thies Raetzke

Elbphilharmonie’s out-of-the-way glass structure designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, is erected on top of the sturdy red brick corpus of a former cocoa warehouse, the „Kaispeicher“; including the base, the highest peak of the Elbphilharmonie pokes into the sky at a lofty 110 metres. The façade sports 1,100 curved panels with dots printed on the surface in order to repel solar radiation. Even in its unfinished state, „Elphi“ has become Hamburg’s new landmark set on prime location at the western tip of the newly developed Hafen-City right in the middle of the Elbe river.
Photo: ©Thies Raetzke.

The chic Plaza adorns the Elbphilharmonie. Photo: Oliver Heissner.

The chic Plaza adorns the Elbphilharmonie. Enjoy the view! Photo: ©Oliver Heissner.

Some dowry: Upon completion in 2017, the initially estimated costs of 77 million euros will have been exceeded 10-fold: for the prestigious project, tax-payers are now confronted with the staggering sum of around 800 million euros.

The Grand Hall has been laid out in what architects call vineyard shape: the orchestra is placed in the centre while the ranks embrace the musicians in a terraced fashion similar to an amphi-theatre – or a vineyard. Its advantage is an unobstructed view from all seats paired with state-of-the-art acoustics.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg + White Skin - Photo: Johannes Arlt

The main venue-to-be: Elbphilharmonie’s Grand Hall covered in its sophisticated “White Skin”. Photo: ©Johannes Arlt.

Responsible for acoustics is one of the world’s leading specialists, Yasuhisa Toyota. It took him weeks to get the hall tuned. To achieve the ultimate result, he developed the „White Skin“, a membrane measuring 6,000 square metres that covers the walls and ceilings of the Grand Hall. The lining consists of 10,000 sheets of gypsum fibre panels, each weighing approx. 70 kilograms. This allows sound to resonate to the remotest corners of the hall, thus guaranteeing a superior listening experience. A reflector in the centre of the ceiling administers the music played by the orchestra equally throughout the hall. The Grand Hall’s 2,100 seats will be anchored 50 metres above ground level. The entire venue sits on robust steel springs which virtually seals it from the rest of the building. Thus, no outside noise can permeate through to its interior to deter concert-goers’ attention or mar their listening pleasure.

Recital Hall and Kaistudio Apart from the Grand Hall, another two concert halls make up the Elbphilharmonie: the Recital Hall with a seating capacity of 550 was designed with chamber music in mind, but can be easily converted for balls or conferences. The Kaistudio at the top of the old warehouse seats 170. This is the venue for contemporary and experimental music, children’s concerts, or a place for rehearsals. Also forming part of the complex are a hotel, a restaurant, 45 residential flats and a Plaza offering a 360° panorama view over the city. Orchestra in Residence at the Elbphilharmonie will be the NDR Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble in Residence is Ensemble Resonanz.

The roof of Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie. Photo: Oliver Heissner

The roof of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. Photo: ©Oliver Heissner

Header image: ©Thies Raetzke