The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is a visible symbol of the transformation of the former free port into the new HafenCity. Construction of this quarter began in 2001. Two years later a project developer presented a proposal to realise, instead of an ofﬁce building, a concert hall on the Kaispeicher A plot, where a warehouse had been built in 1963 according to plans by Werner Kallmorgen. The idea for establishing a public meeting place and cultural venue at the most prominent site in the HafenCity neighbourhood wowed town planners and public alike. Despite the disagreements during the execution of the construction work and the increased costs, the Elbphilharmonie has become not only HafenCity’s uncontested landmark, but that of all of Hamburg.
The Basel-based architecture office Herzog & de Meuron developed the design for the glazed, iceberg-like structure that appears to sit atop the historical warehouse building. It comprises two concert halls (2,100 and 550 seats) with the necessary extensive backstage areas, a hotel, private apartments, a public viewing terrace and a parking garage.
Entrance into the building is via a slightly curved escalator 80 metres in length. It leads to the sixth floor, which is fitted out with a panoramic window. Visitors reach the roof of the former Kaispeicher warehouse by way of a second, shorter escalator and wide stairs. The plaza at a height of 37 metres forms an interstice between the heavy-looking historical brick building and the new, transparent, seemingly floating part of the structure. This plaza, with the sweeping view of the port and the city, along with the stairs and the foyer areas leading to the concert halls are an impressive enactment of public community, encounter, seeing and being-seen.
The large concert hall is the Elbphilharmonie’s centrepiece. Following the Weinberg architecture concept, the orchestra is located in the middle of the auditorium, with the surrounding circles rising up around it. The distinctive wall and ceiling structure – the »white skin« – was specially developed. Some 10,000 individually milled gypsum fibreboard panels reflect and scatter the sound in a precisely calculated way.
The Elbphilharmonie is the most complex example of a multipurpose building to date: an exceptional concert house, a public belvedere, but also a hotel and private residential building (and by now probably also the best-known parking garage), making it a structure that really is used the whole day long. The »Elphi« also shows how the purposeful placement of a cultural institution is able not only to invigorate a neighbourhood, but also to change the geography of an entire city. A former warehouse in the Hamburg port has become a destination for concert-goers and day-trippers alike.