Hamburg's stunning new concert hall will sound just as good as it looks

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The Elbphilharmonie is located on the banks of the river Elbe in the HafenCity quarter of the Hamburg-Mitte district(Credit: Thies Rätzke)

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It's not long now until the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, will be completed. When it opens, visitors will have the run of three auditoriums, a hotel, 45 private apartments and a public plaza, but the building's spectacular architecture is already very much open to the public.

Located on the banks of the river Elbe in the HafenCity quarter of the Hamburg-Mitte district, the Elbphilharmonie has been designed by Herzog & de Meuron — whose lighting installation adorns the Allianz Arena in Munich — to mix old and new. It was topped out in 2010, its shell completed in 2013 and its façade finished in 2014.

An existing former warehouse known as the Kaispeicher A acts as a plinth, atop which a "glass corpus" with shimmering façades has been constructed. To accommodate the extra weight, around 1,700 concrete piles reinforce the structure.

Around 1,100 panes of glass cover 16,000 sq m (172,200 sq ft) of the building, each measuring 4-5 m (13-16 ft) wide and over 3-m (10-ft) high. Most of the panes are said to have been shaped "with millimeter precision" at 600-degrees Celsius (1,112-degrees Fahrenheit) and then marked with "small basalt grey reflective dots." This is aimed at preventing sunlight from overheating the building and also creates its striking shimmering look.

The configuration of the dots on each pane was computer-calculated based on the position of the pane within the building. Likewise, the curvature of each pane is location dependent.

The glass corpus is crowned with a dramatic angled roof comprising eight spherical, concave sections. Covering an area of 7,000 sq m (75,300 sq ft), its sweeping curves have already reshaped the Hamburg skyline.

Between the glass section and the original warehouse building is a seam in which the publicly accessible plaza is located. The 37-m (121-ft) high space provides 360-degree panoramic views of the city and has a walkway around its edges that encircles the whole building.

The warehouse itself will house a 500-space multi-storey car-park, spa facilities and conference rooms for the hotel, a music education area, backstage rooms, and the 170-seat Kaistudio 1 auditorium. The smallest of the three halls, this is said to be an ideal venue for contemporary and experimental music.

Slightly larger than the Kaistudio 1 is the Recital Hall, a conventional auditorium that seats up to 550 people. The Recital Hall is located in the glass section of the building and rests on 56 spring assemblies for acoustic decoupling.

The "centerpiece" of the Elbphilharmonie, though, is the Grand Hall. Designed specifically with the aim of being a world-class concert hall, the 50-m (164-ft) high auditorium seats 2,100, with the orchestra pit in the middle and tiered seating rising steeply upwards.

Like the Recital Hall, the Grand Hall is decoupled from the rest of the building for acoustic independence, but on a more ambitious scale. Indeed, the configuration is described as "one of the most exciting structural challenges in Europe at the moment," with the 12,500-tonne (13,778-ton) volume resting on 362 giant spring assemblies.

Acoustic perfection is further pursued with the use of a material that was specially developed for the project. The "White Skin," as it is called, consists of 10,000 gypsum fiber panels made of natural plaster and recycled paper. The panels are modeled and produced to highly specified 3D dimensions, with their shape and size differing depending on their location within the hall, and are used to clad the 6,500 sq m (70,000 sq ft) of walls and ceiling. They are said to provide "optimal and targeted sound distribution."

Construction of the Elbphilharmonie began in 2007 and it is due to open its doors in January next year.

The video below provides an introduction to the Elbphilharmonie.

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