Andermatt, once a busy base of the Swiss federal army, had been in gradual decline since the end of the Cold War. The Alpine village has recently turned to its greatest asset, its natural beauty, and invested in a new future as a luxury holiday destination. Egyptian billionaire property developer Samih Sawiris was first invited to be a consultant on the town’s regeneration by local government, but was so enthused by the potential of the place that he decided to personally invest and lead the project.
Initially, plans included hotels, apartments, and chalets with skiing facilities and a golf course. However, after the construction of one of the hotels had started, Sawiris, a great fan of classical music, decided to build a world-class concert hall to create a year-round cultural attraction.
London-based Studio Seilern Architects was brought in to lead the project. The practice is run by Christina Seilern, Swiss architect and former head of Rafael Viñoly’s London office. She was commissioned after working on the design of a restaurant at the top of Andermatt’s ski slope.
Her challenge was to convert an existing underground space, originally for conferences and other events, into a spectacular performance venue. Seilern’s innovative solution was to raise the height of the ceiling to above ground level, doubling the internal volume and allowing natural light to burst into the hall. The move generates the capacity to host a full symphony orchestra and a seated audience of over 650, transforming a modest basement into a centerpiece space.
Most concert halls tend to be windowless boxes, but Andermatt’s glazing allows for a panoramic view of the surrounding sky and landscape. On a visit for its opening last week, Seilern conjured the romantic notion that an audience can enjoy music surrounded by falling snow or summer sun.
From ground level, the concert hall roof reveals itself as an elegant glazed pavilion, deceptively lightweight. Passers-by can take a peek at the performance below their feet and the folded timber-lined interior that wraps around the hall.
To make a simple concrete box function as a world-class concert hall, Seilern needed to work extensively with acoustic specialist Kahle Acoustics, and theater consultants Ducks Sceno. She adapted an “origami structure” to combine acoustic performance with sculptural form. Three cloud-like acoustic reflectors are suspended from the ceiling, and act like pieces of public art from street level. The precision-engineered space sounds and works beautifully, like the compact inner workings of a Swiss watch.
In the tight constraints of an underground site, the architect has managed to find a solution where both aesthetics and functionality are equally addressed. The success of the project has already been rewarded with a bigger commission from Sawiris to build the “El Gouna” concert and conference venue in Egypt.
The plan to develop this sleepy village into a luxury resort is an on-going project. More hotels and holiday apartments are yet to be built. In Switzerland, foreign buyers are heavily restricted from acquiring real estate. Interestingly, the Swiss government has made Andermatt a very rare exemption, allowing foreigners to buy and sell holiday properties there, perhaps that Switzerland is beginning to adapt to a global market.
On June 16th, a celebratory inaugural concert by the Berlin Philharmonic officially opened the Andermatt Concert Hall. The carefully designed Swiss watch has started ticking, as this small Alpine village begins a new chapter.
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