The that ‘Mega buildings like the Elbphilharmonie

The Elbphilharmonie is quite a well-known building. Many
famous architects and designers got involved and put their stamp on the
interior and exterior as well as the acoustics. Herzog & de Meuron and Toyota
are just some of the names. Not any less famous are the orchestras and
philharmonics that play inside the building. The interior complements their
music, leaving the audience enchanted and wanting for more.

‘Incorporating the mixed ages and usage of the historic
fabric, they have designed beautiful details and ornament relevant to music.’ (Jencks,
March 2017). Ornaments have been seen as dated and unnecessary during the
Modernist period, however in many post-modern buildings they can be found as a
feature.

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Charles Jencks, an architect and designer mainly working in
the post-modern style, also said that today’s typical mega buildings might
suffer from the usual problems which he identifies as bigness and massive
scale. Hinting that this might have been the case for the Elbphilharmonie,
before stating that, the architects fortunately managed to mitigate these
problems. Despite the building having some flaws like all great works of
architecture, Jencks counts it as being one of the few iconic buildings since Frank
Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum built in Bilbao from 1993 – 1997. (Jencks, March 2017)1

Jencks (March 2017) states that ‘Mega buildings like the
Elbphilharmonie never get built unless one is economical with the truth.’ This
means that developers and politicians often come up with what can only be described
as ridiculously low initial cost estimates. Once building permission has been
granted and during construction, the price then gets updated closer to the real
figures. This is a phenomenon of our time which can be seen all around the
world, especially in Germany. Researchers at the Hertie School of Governance
made a study including a total of 170 realised Infrastructure-Megaprojects
since 1960. There findings even shocked themselves said the head of the studies
Genia Kostka, the finished projects had an average cost increase of 73 percent.2

 

 

 

 

The Elbphilharmonie took a total of 9 years to construct
during the period of 2007-2016, seven longer than estimated. It was a very slow
process that even came to a halt in 2011; not benefitting the financial state
that was already affected from the construction before. Finally in 2013 after a
year and a half of an empty construction site the cranes are back in action
spinning round as construction finally got on the way again. Meanwhile, the
senator for cultural affairs, Babara Kissler (partyless) stated that ‘This new
arrangement is not a marriage out of love anymore, but rather a marriage out of
convienience. However, they are said to last longer anyway.’ (Art,
2013)(Translated from German by the author Hanna Ober)4
Having come to a grand total on 866 billion euros instead of its original
budget of 77 billion euro means that this building is not only more than 10
times more expensive than forecasted, but also that it is now stated the 16th
most expensive building in the world.5
As a result, the press have damned the Elbphilharmonie and locals – as well as
non-locals – have given it several nicknames. ‘Späti’ (latey) – because it was
7 years late, ‘Betrügerli’ (cheaterly) – since it costed so much more in the
end, or the sarcastic ‘Kostnix’ (costs nothing)6
are just a few of the ‘loving’ nicknames this building has been given. More
positive and forgiving is the nickname ‘Philli’, exotic but still at home in
Hamburg, and still rebelling against the politicians who nicknamed it ‘Elphi’.7
To celebrate the occasion of the building being done, the lights in the
building were switched on in such a way that it read the word finished – in
German fertig – from the outside. While the building debacle in Hamburg was
going on two further ones started their journey enraging the nation. One of
them being Stuttgart 21.

The next building project is the hub for the capital, the
airport BER. This is probably one of Germany’s most embarrassing construction
failures. Having been originally planned in 1996, it was ot until September
2006 did construction take place. The building initially meant to open in
October 2011. On a regular basis problems and mistakes in planning came to
light. The highlight was probably when it turned out that the airport was
fully lit day and night because it was unclear where the switches were and no
one knew where or how to turn off the lights, the airport became a choke to the
whole nation. It turned out that only one person involved in the whole project
has ever worked on an airport construction. They parted ways with him ‘in good
terms’. Politicians and people involved have been changing ever since as a
consequence of the debaclea1 HO2 . The airport BER is now said to open in 2020 costing 5.5 billion Euros. At
the moment it costs Germany 1.3 million daily.

Coming back to the Elphilharmonie. The site has been called ‘Germany’s
gateway to the world’, as it lies on the western tip of a new quarter in the
old harbour area. The area surrounding it is called the ‘Hafen City’. Werner
Kallmorgen designed the warehouse – Kaispeicher A – in the early 1960’s, but
now it has been empty for years due to the cargo shipment taking over. The city
decides to take action, building the ‘Media City Port’ – an office building. The
freelance architect and project developer Alexander Gérard wants to prevent
that idea for several reasons. Firstly because of the economic situation at the
time it was hard to let commercial property. Secondly, because of its unique
exposed location within not only the Hafen City but Hamburg itself he wanted it
to serve a cultural purpose instead. Hamburg has a long musical history. One of
its most well-known historical musicians is Johannes Brahms, who was born in
Hamburg. The Beatles made it internationally in Hamburg in 1960. Today Hamburg
has 100 musical venues one of its most known being Dance of the Vampires, and
two major orchestras. To honour these musicians and the great tradition the
concert hall should have a unique design.In a private initiative, he envisioned
to create a concert hall in the space. 
He therefore contacts his old fellow student Jaques Herzog. 8

Jaques Herzog is now a Swiss star architect. He owns a firm
with his colleague Pierre de Meuron in Basel since 1978. They are world leading
architects of stadiums and museums. Their designs include the Beijing Olympic
Stadium as well as the extension of London’s Tate Gallery. However, these are
new grounds for them as they have never approached a concert hall venture
before. In 1993 they started combining abstraction with explicit ornament.

The initial idea up to December 2011 was to dig the concert
hall out of the warehouse. However, according to Alexander Gérard in Bonus
documentary: Die Elbphilharmonie – Hamburgs neues Wahrzeichen (2017), Herzog
said ‘that as a firm, they were interested but it had to be recognizable from
the outside that the warehouse ‘Kernspeicher A’ has received a new use and
purpose’

The first drafts has been made on a postcard of the exciting
building by Herzog when they met up to talk through the idea. The spontaneous
idea of a shape similar to a cocks comb has such an intriguing characteristic
that it was destined to last. Unfortunately, this first sketch has been lost.
However many other early sketches were kept and can show the process of their
work and ideas.

 

 

 

 The materials are combined to create a strong contrast. The
original warehouse becomes the solid brick base linking the history to the
future. Added is a delicate wave of glass which created the top and mirrors the
surrounding water of the river Elbe and the Harbour. The Elbphilharmonie brings
together opposites. Flat and three dimensional work together, so do red masonry
and slick-tech glass, locally iconic warehouse and internationally iconic
concert hall, past and future and so many more. The first 3D rendered visual model
takes Hamburg’s citizens as well as politicians alike by storm.

Gérard as well as Herzog & De Meuron spend the next
three years promoting the new idea to the city and perfecting their vision. In
the end, Pierre de Meuron’s presentation in 2005 is a full success since only a
few months later the decision to build the Elbphilharmonie was made in
Hamburg’s parliament.

De Meuron is fascinated and amazed by the unusual process.
‘It evolved from a private initiative, and we didn’t know whether it could e
accomplished  or … even be funded. …
What makes the project so unique is that throughout all networks there was
immediate support for the project.’ He said in an Interview in 2006 as shown in
Bonus documentary: Die Elbphilharmonie – Hamburgs neues Wahrzeichen (2017)11.
After the senate is not only on board but wants to join in, Gérard is brought
out of his own idea.  In 2001 Hochtief
gets the contract to build the landmark, which is said to cost the city 241
million Euros. After only two and a half years of planning the project goes
into the next phase, despite he blue prints not being finished yet. Ole von
Beust, Mayor of Hamburg 2001 – 2010 said in 2007 at the foundation stone
ceremony: ‘This synthesis of red brick and a new modern light architecture
shall be a magnet, fascinating the people of this city and northern Germany,
Europe and perhaps even all over the world.’, this is captured in the bonus
documentary: Die Elbphilharmonie – Hamburgs neues Wahrzeichen (2017)12

 

  

  

‘We shall help Hamburg to get a new symbol from the exterior
and … the interior.’ Said Herzog at this Interview in 2006 which is featured in
the bonus documentary: Die Elbphilharmonie – Hamburgs neues Wahrzeichen (2017).14
This interview was taken in their office with both Jacques Herzog and Pierre de
Meuron present. In the background are a rendered visual of the Elbphilharmonie
as well as a physical model.

A design like this – or the like of which – has never been
seen before on top of an existing building a world class venue has erected. 1000
curved and printed window elements make the top seem like a giant crystal. Each
window is unique, as not two windows have the same pattern printed onto them. The
lights and colours of the sky, the water and the city are captured and
reflected in the windows. The printed windows also insure that the building can
be seen by ships day and night as some of the printing is done in chrome. The
big bulges which are mainly found on the higher side of the building are partly
opened balconies, which are designed to look like giant tuning forks. Others
call these U-shaped windows smiles. These focus the viewers’ eye on important
landmarks like an adjacent skyscraper for example, some on cranes or ships.
Many people see the metaphor that those upturned curves create, just how in the
see small wavelets add up and accumulate to large breakers these small wavelets
on the façade of the building turn into the giant waves of the top.  Jencks (March 2017)15
also said that double coding can be found all over this building. He points out
that there is double coding going on in these waves as well, in March 2017 he
wrote that ‘the waves all move along in the direction of the wharves and
warehouses towards the North Sea, the origin of the economy.

The old warehouse had to be completely gutted, without
damaging the fragile facade. It was already completely gutted and refilled
while there were still no final plans for the great hall. In 2009 came the big
announcement, the opening will not only be delayed by at least 2 years – so to
2012, but the build will also be 209 million Euros over the initial budget.16

The great concert hall lies in the very centre; the smaller
hall for the chamber concerts compliments it. However, over the 26 floors more
than these halls can be found. The old warehouse is now mainly a car park,
however it also occupies several Kaistudios. These studios are used for
workshops, experimental music, lectures or rehearsals. The upper two levels
also include a restaurant and beer-tasting area called ‘Störtebeker
Elbphilharmonie’. The public space is accessible via the ‘tube’, the longest
conveyor escalator in the world measuring 80 metres. The Plaza is located
between the brick base and the glass top in 37 meters. It creates a room for
everyone as it is accessible all day for the public. One of the main aims of
Herzog & de Meuron was to open the building to the public so it would not
just be aimed at music lovers, the 2000 – 2500 orchestra goers. De Meuron went
so far to say, it almost became their manifesto in interview seen in the bonus
documentary: Die Elbphilharmonie – Hamburgs neues Wahrzeichen (2017).17
The Plaza leads to all further areas of the building, including the concert
halls. Also accessible from the Plaza is the luxurious hotel with 244 rooms
ranging from 31 square metre to 160 square metre and from 220 euros per night
to 3000 euros per night. The hotel also offers a wellness area and a 20 metre
pool. The luxury apartments are also accessible via the Plaza. 44 apartments
are set out over 15 levels, ranging from 120 to 400 square metres. It is said
that some owners paid up to ten million euros for their apartment since the
price per square metre is said to be between 15000 euros and 25000 euros, but
this is unconfirmed since the estate agents try to keep the prices a secret.
The apartments do offer a lot of luxury. All apartments offer a view over the
city and the river Elbe. Kate Hume, a British interior designer was inspired
for the interior by the sky above Hamburg, the river Elbe and the typical green
copper roofs found throughout the city. She used a lot of greens and blues in
her designs. The apartments also come with a Concierge and a reserved parking
space in an extra area of the car park, however the parking space cost an extra
50000 euros.1819

 

 

 

The core of it all is the great hall which centres the
around the stage. Acoustic specialist Yasuhisa Toyota and the architect Ascan
Mergenthaler were responsible for the great hall. Its round shape is
challenging, both acoustically and architecturally. A 1:10 model was built for
Toyota to physically test and optimise the acoustics. The model was filled with
a model audience wearing felt as humans and fabric changes the acoustics. As
the hall seats 2100 visitors, this has to be taken into account. The
vertical-walled cave is unusual in many aspects. However, it helps to ensure
that everyone gets a good, audible view – Herzog even goes so far to say that
the cheapest are the best, as they are on the top of the white cave. (Jencks,
2017). Charles Jencks wrote that what Herzog & de Meuron created is ‘German
Expressionism to the second power’ (March 2017)21

The concert cannot be disturbed by outside noise like the
horns of boats or ships. Nor can the noise from the concert interrupt people in
the Plaza, the hotel or the apartments. As a result they had to come up with an
unique solution. The great hall has an outer and an inner shell. The main
concert hall is a supreme mastery of acoustics, accomplishing a musical sound
within the building unlike any other. The inner shell rests completely on 362
flexible steel springs. This decouples the hall acoustically and renders it
sound proof.