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Culture

Philharmonic Hall Set to Become Hamburg's Newest Landmark

Hamburg's new concert hall will be more than a location for fantastic musical moments. The imposing structure that includes a grand hall and a hotel is set to become the newest landmark on the port city's skyline.

Hamburg skyline

Planners hope the hall will be completed by 2011

At the western tip of Hamburg's harbor, the dramatic design of the new Elbe Philharmonic Hall emerges slowly from the mists.

Expected to be completed in two years, it will bring to the northern German port not only a new concert hall, but also an 110-meter landmark visible to approaching ships from way down river.

The designers are Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, whose portfolio includes the Tate Modern in London, the Allianz Arena in Munich and the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

A ship-friendly landmark

Located at the tip of the Sandtorhafen, the first industrial harbor basin in Hamburg and at a site once occupied by the city's Kaiserspeicher warehouse complex, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall is destined to become a navigational point for ships entering the harbor.

A huge brick 1960s warehouse built to replace the Kaiserspeicher, which was destroyed in World War II, has had its interior gutted to make room for 500 parking spaces, an education section, back-stage facilities, rehearsal rooms, catering facilities and a spa area.

Soon, construction of the main concert hall will begin -- a spectacular, shimmering series of glass facades soaring to a height of 110 meters (360 feet) on top of the warehouse.

The Eiffel Tower of Hamburg?

The centerpiece is an auditorium seating 2,150. Is it possible to plan a landmark? Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust says time will tell.

"But that's only half the truth. If we think of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Cologne Cathedral or the Sydney Opera House three things came together to create a landmark -- good visibility due to the size or location of the building, direct symbolism and a stimulating architectural idea," Beust said.

Besides the Grand Hall there will also be two additional auditoriums, one of them with a 550-seat capacity, the other for experimental music and rehearsals.

On the eastern side there will be a five-star hotel with some 250 rooms, complete with spa and conference areas. On the west, there will be 45 owner-occupied apartments with splendid views eastward down the Elbe

A plaza at a height of 37 meters, where visitors will be able to sip coffee while enjoying a view of the harbor, is also planned. Hamburg already has the Laeiszhalle, an internationally renowned "old-style" concert hall.

Time crunch

Christoph Lieben-Seutter, 44, is the Elbe Philharmonic's general director.

"It should be two or three years from now. But you never know," he says, noting that its foundation stone was only laid in April 2007. "Past experience has shown that there can be considerable delays."

"One has only to think of the Sydney Opera House, which took 30 years longer than intended, and the Danish Radio Concert project in Copenhagen now several years overdue," Lieben-Seutter says.

Completion date has been set back to 2011 from the planned 2010. "Planning-wise, it will be tight although l think it can be done," he says with regard to the 2010-11 concert program.

Difficulties in design

A challenge for the architects is ensuring audiences are located closer to the stage.

"The most important hall designed in this way is architect Hans Sharoun's Berlin Philharmonie, built in the early 1960s, which was a landmark design at that time and a very successful one," says Lieben-Seutter.

"Many concert halls these days get designed in the so-called vineyard style on several levels. In Hamburg the aim is to develop that concept further, with ideas coming from several sources, including La Scala in Milan," he says.

The acoustics are in the hands of Yasuhisa Toyota, chief acoustician of a whole range of concert hall projects in Japan and the US.

The Elbe Philharmonic Hall will not be the tallest building in Hamburg. The city bans new structures taller than its main churches, of which the highest is St Michael's, rising to 132 meters.

Nevertheless, given its position in the HafenCity development, it will be the most visible.

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