The Elbphilharmonie: Hamburg’s new cultural landmark

Hamburg has a new cultural landmark: the Elbphilharmonie, which opened its doors in January 2017 in Hamburg’s HafenCity. Located on the banks of the Elbe river, the impressive building contains three concert halls, a hotel, 45 private apartments, and the publicly accessible Plaza with a 360° panoramic view of the city. The centerpiece of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is one of the most exciting structural challenges in Europe: A world-class concert hall at a height of 50 meters with seating for 2,100 people, which is decoupled from the rest of the building for soundproofing reasons. The cross-section below provides you with a good overview of the building’s inner layout:

Elbphilharmonie Cross-Section (unlabelled) © Herzog & de Meuron / bloomimages

Built at a history-charged and prominent location

The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is located at a historically significant place: the Sandtorhafen docks. In 1875, the so-called Kaiserspeicher was built at that point and it served as the first warehouse in the Hamburg docks. The magnificent Neo-Gothic building quickly emerged as the city’s landmark while the city became a major center of international trade. Almost completely destroyed in WW II, the Kaiserspeicher was detonated in 1963. The following Kaispeicher A was erected on the same site in 1966. Cocoa, tea and tobacco were stored there until the 1990s. With the rise in container transport, however, the warehouse dwindled in significance and ultimately stood empty.

Kaiserspeicher (1929) and Kaispeicher A (1967) © Zoch

Following the approval of the city government, construction work of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg began on April 2nd, 2007, with the laying of the foundation stone. The Kaispeicher A was first completely gutted, with just the brick facades remaining intact. Then further 650 reinforced concrete piles, in addition to the existing 1,111, were rammed 15 meters deep into the mud of the Elbe river, so that the building could support the 200,000 tonnes of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. This equates approx. 416,666 grand pianos, 722 Airbus A 380, or 2.5 Queen Mary cruise ships!

Elbphilharmonie (Dec 2016) © Thies Rätzke

A world-class concert hall within fascinating building

The interplay between the archaic appearance of the former Kaiserspeicher A warehouse and the bold curve of the dazzling glass corpus builds the unique architectural characteristic of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. The glass facade consists of 1,100 individual panes, each measuring four to five meters wide and three to five meters high. The windows themselves are a masterpiece of engineering: most glass panes were separately shaped with millimeter precision at 600° C, then marked with small basalt grey reflective dots. This prevents the structure from heating up due to sunlight while at the same time it creates a special shimmering effect. The glass surface of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg covers 16,000 square meters, a size equivalent to two football fields.

Between the warehouse and the new construction is a publicly accessible area, the Plaza. The Plaza is accessible to any visitor, with or without a concert ticket, and offers an unparalleled 360° panoramic view of the city from a height of 37 meters. You can choose between a Plaza Ticket or an English guided tour (15 €) through the old Kaispeicher warehouse, the Plaza, the foyer areas and the Grand Hall.

Plaza (Nov 2016) © Iwan Baan

The Grand Hall is at the heart of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. Following the concept of vineyard architecture, the orchestra sits in the middle of the auditorium, with the rows of 2,100 seats rising steeply in interwoven tiers. This guarantees unobstructed sightlines of the stage and an excellent listening experience from every seat. It is structural masterpiece: for soundproofing reasons the 12,500-tonne hall rests on 362 giant spring assemblies and is thus decoupled from the rest of the building. To ensure that the acoustics are perfect, a special material has been developed by the internationally renowned acoustics specialist Yasuhisa Toyota. This is referred to as the “White Skin”. Its material and surface structure ensures that the acoustics in the Grand Hall are perfect. The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg contains two further concert halls: the Recital Hall and the Kaistudio 1.

Grand Hall © Iwan Baan

The task of making music accessible, approachable and something that everyone can experience was written into the Elbphilharmonie’s DNA. The concerts are therefore bursting with musical color and contrast: the broad musical spectrum includes orchestral concerts and operatic performances with the best orchestras in the world; piano, string quartet and lieder recitals; as well as world music, electronic and pop music. International stars have an impact on the musical heartbeat of the concert hall, as do the artists and ensembles within the city. The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra has taken its place as the Elbphilharmonie’s orchestra in residence, and two other Hamburg orchestras and a chamber music ensemble round out the musical profile.

The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and the renowned Laeiszhalle are under the direction of one company. You can find all coming Elbphilharmonie events and Laeiszhalle events with corresponding tickets here.

Images © HamburgMusik gGmbH – Elbphilharmonie und Laeiszhalle Betriebsgesellschaft