For the past nine years, Pritzker-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron have been busy transforming an abandoned brick warehouse in the heart of Hamburg’s buzzing industrial port into one of the world’s most striking concert venues. After six years of delays and a $1 billion bill that’s roughly three times over budget, Germany’s most anticipated new landmark is finally set to open on November 4: the soaring, glass-covered Elbphilharmonie.
Rising from the banks of the Elbe river like a cresting wave, the massive 26-story structure dominates Hamburg’s skyline and holds three world-class concert halls, a 4.5-star hotel, and 45 apartments. In addition, a public viewing Plaza built between the top of the old brick warehouse and the new prismatic facade offers wraparound 360-degree views over the city and nearby Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The venue will not only serve as the new home of the recently renamed NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, but will also host a diverse lineup of acts like Yo-Yo Ma, Brian Eno, and the New York Philharmonic.
The glittering Elbphilharmonie is actually the crown jewel in Europe’s largest urban development project, HafenCity Hamburg, which has revamped nearly 400 acres of rundown docks along the city’s hardworking port into a thriving center of boutiques, high-rise condos, and canal-lined promenades during the past 15 years.
Add to that two new UNESCO designations last year along Hamburg’s historic waterfront and a record year for cruise ship passengers, and Germany’s second-largest city—which actually boasts more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined—is emerging from Berlin and Munich’s shadow by celebrating its proud maritime heritage.
The Elbphilharmonie’s central waterfront setting and scalloped sail-like roof have already led city officials to compare it to the Sydney Opera House, whose reputation as a cultural and architectural showpiece has long outgrown its function as merely a performance venue. It’s an ambitious claim, but early indicators are promising: Tickets for the first six months of concerts—which start on January 11th—sold out months ago; the 21,000 tickets for this weekend’s grand opening of the Plaza were scooped up in just a few days.
“We reviewed every great concert hall in the world before designing the Elbphilharmonie, and this absolutely rivals the best,” Ascan Mergenthaler, the senior partner in charge of the project at Herzog & de Meuron, tells Condé Nast Traveler. “Everything about this building is unique: its central location in the city, its position piled directly on top of an historic building, and the compactness and intimacy of the concert halls. Nothing like this has ever been done before.”
Among the Elbphilharmonie’s most unique features are the 1,000 undulating, liquid-like glass panels covering its surface that (literally) reflect the ripples of Hamburg’s nautical history below. Starting this weekend, visitors can ascend a 200-foot curving escalator from the waterfront, which slowly transports you through an illuminated tube-like tunnel to the top of the indoor and outdoor public Plaza.
Measuring 4,000 square meters, the new Plaza is as large as the city’s main square, Rathausmarkt, and offers some of the best panoramic views of downtown Hamburg. It also serves as the entrance to the 4.5-star Westin Hamburg, whose 244 ultra-modern rooms, suites, and spacious spa also open this weekend.
“The curved escalator is fantastic because you can’t see the end when you begin your journey through the building,” Mergenthaler says. “It takes two minutes to go up, and it prepares you for the concert experience.”
The centerpiece of this concert experience takes place in the Grand Hall, where 2,100 seats ascend around a central stage like a terraced vineyard. To ensure pitch-perfect surround sound, famed Japanese acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota wrapped the hall’s walls and ceiling with 10,000 individually molded panels and suspended a sound reflector from the vaulted ceiling.
“We always say that you cannot design an international landmark. The people must decide that,” Mergenthaler says. “But with such a great coincidence of location, architectural beauty, and precise sound, this building perfectly captures the reputation of Hamburg as Germany’s ‘Gateway to the World.’”
From: CN Traveler