Concert hall to make waves on Hamburg skyline

5th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

6 April 2007, Hamburg (dpa) - Work has begun in the German port city of Hamburg on a concert hall which may one day rival Sydney's opera house as one of the world's most instantly identifiable waterside buildings. The site, in Hamburg's abandoned docklands, could hardly be more striking: since the 19th century, incoming ships have sailed up-river directly towards the huge warehouse which will serve as the base of the lofty new building. Most sea-freight today is either bulk or carried in containers, so the

6 April 2007

Hamburg (dpa) - Work has begun in the German port city of Hamburg on a concert hall which may one day rival Sydney's opera house as one of the world's most instantly identifiable waterside buildings.

The site, in Hamburg's abandoned docklands, could hardly be more striking: since the 19th century, incoming ships have sailed up-river directly towards the huge warehouse which will serve as the base of the lofty new building.

Most sea-freight today is either bulk or carried in containers, so there is no more call for wharves and warehouses to unload cocoa, coffee and other products, sack by sack, from ships' holds.

Rather than tearing down the fortress-like Kaispeicher A warehouse, Swiss architects Pierre de Meuron and Jacques Herzog had the idea of doubling its height with a structure that resembles a white dust-cloth draped over nine spikes.

The roof-line will look like waves on the ocean, a nod of respect to the white concrete roofs of Sydney's landmark, which recall the sails of yachts.

Surrounded on three sides by the Elbe river, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall will become Hamburg's second venue for orchestral concerts and the centrepiece of a project to redevelop the historic docklands.

The city of 1.8 million is hoping that the makeover will shift the focus of city life back to the waterside and put Hamburg on the world map for something more salubrious than its tawdry red-light district, currently the main thing that most tourists come to see.

The white light reflected from the glass facade, and the temple of high culture indoors, will outshine the rust of the piers and dry- docks and the smut in the back streets, the city fathers hope.

Like the Sydney Opera House, this gift to the world has caused controversy, with taxpayers alarmed over the building's 241-million- euro price tag, cost over-runs which have already begun and the perpetual budget to maintain the venue and its musicians.

In the melting-pot city, where orchestral music only reaches out to a small elite and the common interest of the different ethnicities is limited mainly to football, many suggested the money would be better spent on rescuing immigrant youths from delinquency.

"Elite yes, elitist no," responded Mayor Ole von Beust this week at a foundation-stone ceremony, adding that the city would be proud of this conversion of the massive 1960s brick block, by architect Werner Kallmorgen, into something soaring and light.

"The architecture is symbolic," he said. "One of our traditional brick buildings will be topped by waves of glass."

De Meuron's office, Herzog & de Meuron, brings monumental credentials to the task, having designed Munich's spacelab-style football stadium, the Tate Modern in London and the National Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The design will fit a 220-room hotel, 60 apartments and a 2,150- seat auditorium under the glass superstructure. De Meuron has promised: "We will bring the audience up really close to the orchestra. The audience will shape the space."

Yasuhisa Toyota of Japan, who earlier worked on the Suntory Hall in Tokyo and the Disney Hall in Los Angeles, has been retained to tune the acoustics in the hall, scheduled for opening in 2010.

"You won't be able to hear the acoustics," he explained. "They merely assist the music. My job is to ensure that this music makes a good impression."

To counter the critics, Christoph Lieben-Seutter, a 43-year-old Austrian, has been appointed director of the Philharmonic hall and the city's other concert venue, the Laeiszhalle, to widen the musical programme to include jazz, pops and "world music."

"Rather than catering to an elite audience, we want a programme tailored to all," he said.

The almost windowless lower half of the building, which has the severe charm of Industrial Modernism (also mocked as "brutalist" architecture), is to be gutted and converted into a 570-space car- park and a "back-stage" area.

A public viewing platform on the 37-metre-high roof of Kaispeicher A will offer views towards the huge container terminal across the water, where ships come and go day and night at Europe's second- largest port as sightseeing launches zig-zag over the river.

Internet: www.elbphilharmonie.de

DPA

Subject: German news

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