Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie: Great Gig in the Sky

© Maxim Schulz

10 years late and 10 times over budget… Swiss firm, Herzog & de Meuron finally complete their masterpiece – a modern day St. Paul’s Cathedral. One would think the days of high profile cultural projects are behind us, in this post Lehman Brothers universe we live in; where every conjuring is measured by the number of pennies it will require to realize.

© Maxim Schulz
© Maxim Schulz

It’s fair to assume that the retrofit of a 1960’s, exposed brick, industrial warehouse with a €70m budget would be something slick and elegant, having cut enough corners to deem it “feasible” while maintaining a certain je n’ais se quoi to uphold it’s critical acclaim. Here we have – dare I say – an immaculate conception, with a construction cost akin to the GDP of a tiny nation.

© Maxim Schulz
© Maxim Schulz
© Maxim Schulz
© Maxim Schulz

It has drawn heavy comparisons to the “crystal in the sky” dream sketches of Bruno Taut during the first World War. Herzog & de Meuron have certainly put a crystal in the sky, albeit resting on a large brick warehouse instead of a mountain as per Taut’s vision. What was realized here is nothing short of a dream in itself. It boasts finely chiseled corners rising up in perfect geometry and clad in material ostensibly sourced from Jupiter. Upon closer inspection it starts to reveal it’s intricately fritted curved glass sections.

© Maxim Schulz
© Maxim Schulz

The downside of all of this is the perception that, with a budget nearing a billion euros and filled with spaces housing high brow functions, many questioned if the city is paying for a slick playground for Hamburg’s elite. The architects countered this notion by creating a public plaza at the gasket section between the solid base and the floating crystal concert halls. This space was carefully design to feel like you were still on the quayside, only 40 meters in the air with a sweeping panoramic view of Hamburg. Most importantly, completely free to the general public.

© Iwan Baan
Plaza in the sky. © Iwan Baan

Leading up to this elevated plaza is possibly the world’s longest and only curved escalator. It stretches across the building moving extremely slow, intentionally, to accentuate the journey to the top. The escalator walls are clad in speckled tones of white and grey, making it feel like a futuristic excursion through a Stanley Kubrick dream sequence.

© Iwan Baan
Curved escalator © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Main concert hall. © Iwan Baan

The Elbphilharmonie demonstrates what we have affectionately termed the Bilbao Effect, affecting a positive turn in a city’s legacy due to the addition of stand out landmarks like this one.