Herzog & de Meuron's "Pirate" Seizes Hamburg's Skyline'and Its Imagination

A warehouse on Hamburg’s waterfront is being transformed into the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, the architectural equivalent of Greta Garbo or a pirate ship—take your pick of these analogies, the former offered by future tenant Christoph von Dohnányi, chief conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra, and the latter by architect Jaques Herzog, of Herzog & de Meuron.

Images: Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron

As contradictory as they might seem, both analogies are apt. Von Dohnányi says that the design, like the famously shy film star, “is very beautiful, but it doesn’t show off.” For his part, Herzog explains that his glass-clad addition, with its wavy sail-like roof, commandeers the fortress-like masonry warehouse and more than doubles its size to dominate a low-profile skyline.

Elbe Philharmonic is located in HafenCity: the largest downtown redevelopment project in Europe, encompassing 380 acres on Hamburg’s waterfront and increasing the city’s downtown area by 40 percent. As its name suggests, the star attraction of the 1.3 million-square-foot building is a 2,150-seat concert hall—designed in collaboration with Nagata Acoustics—for the NDR Symphony Orchestra. Other public components include a 550-seat theater and a children’s museum. Additionally, the complex will be home to 45 condominium units as well as a hotel, spa, and conference facilities.

Herzog and his partner, Pierre de Meuron, conceive of Elbe Philharmonic and its varied program elements like a “vertical city.” The existing 635,000-square-foot, 1960s-vintage structure will house a parking garage and other functional elements—its roof, some 120 feet above water level, will be transformed into a public plaza offering 360-degree views of the skyline and upward into the concert halls, residences, and other facilities cantilevered above it. The $313 million project broke ground in March and is expected to open in 2010.