Elbphilharmonie Hamburg; an insight.

The Elbphilharmonie will be inaugurated on 11 January 2017, although the Plaza will already be publicly accessible from November 2016 (there will be a lottery for the first concert tickets- more details in June).
The Elbphilharmonie is about to take its place among the world’s largest concert halls. The following article provides insight into the fascinating architecture and outlines the journey of project planning and management undertaken, as the city of Hamburg watched.


illustration northeast elevation © Herzog & de Meuron


Architectural Details

Old and new conjoin in an exciting synthesis. The dazzling glass structure is actually built on top of a former warehouse known as the Kaispeicher A , where cocoa, tea and tobacco were stored until the 1990s. 

The centrepiece of the Elbphilharmonie is one of the most exciting structural challenges in Europe at the moment: a world-class concert hall at a height of 50 metres with seating for 2,100, which, in addition to three concert halls, will encompass a hotel, 45 private apartments, and a publicly accessible Plaza with a 360° panoramic view of the city. 


illustration of the Grand Hall © Herzog & de Meuron


In the Grand Hall, the orchestra sits in the middle of the auditorium, with the rows of seats rising up in steep tiers. It is structural masterpiece: for soundproofing reasons the 12,500-tonne hall rests on 362 giant spring assemblies and is thus decoupled from the rest of the building. 


Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall, January 2015 © Johannes Arlt


The White Skin ensures that the acoustics in the Grand Hall are perfect. It consists of a total of 10,000 gypsum fibre panels composed of a mixture of natural plaster and recycled paper. 


The White Skin in the Grand Hall (closeup), February 2016 © Johannes Arlt


The windows themselves are a masterpiece of engineering. Most glass panes were separately shaped with millimetre precision at 600° C, then marked with small basalt grey reflective dots. This prevents the structure from heating up due to sunlight while at the same time it creates a special shimmering effect. To achieve an optimal effect the configuration of the dots is computer-calculated for each glass pane based on the respective mounting positions.  Each glass element weighs about 1.2 tonnes. 


Last glass panel of the facade, January 2014 © Johannes Arlt 

The Construction

The initial idea for rejuvenating Kaispeicher A was the construction of a private office. However, the end of the dotcom boom and the subsequent drop in demand meant it was never actually built.

Originally commissioned by the project developer, Swiss Architects Herzog & de Meuron came up with a project sketch – the groundbreaking idea of a Hamburg Philharmonie – the construction of a concert hall on the historical warehouse, surrounded by commercial facilities and a publicly accessible Plaza. The spectacular design elated the Senate, the city government and the public and by May 2004 the project was assigned a developer.

Following the unanimous approval of the city government, construction work began on the 2nd April 2007 with the laying of the foundation stone.

Kaispeicher gutted, June 2008 © Oliver Heissner


Legal disputes during construction

The building of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg was accompanied by disputes between the municipal Elbphilharmonie Bau KG and the property development company Adamanta.

  • April 2007 – construction began 

In 2008, the costs of the project increased to 495 million Euro for the city and the 30th of November 2011 was agreed upon as the already revised completion date.

In 2010 the Hamburg state parliament launched a parliamentary committee of inquiry in order to determine the causes of the increase in costs. In early 2010, Hochtief announced that it was not able to fulfil its contractual obligations.

  • May 2010 – completion of the 26th story, the last bare brickwork level

In March 2011 the general contractor announced that the building could not be completed until November 2013, and in October 2011 ceased construction work on the roof of the Grand Hall.

In April 2013 the project partners signed an agreement for a resurrection of the project, after which construction work was fully resumed.  

Elbphilharmonie roof, Oct 2014 © Oliver Heissner
  • November 2013 – completion of shell construction
  • December 2013 – commencement of the White Skin in the Grand Hall
  • January 2014 – completion of the glass facade
  • August 2014 – sealing of the roof

The Elbphilharmonie will be inaugurated on 11 January 2017, although the Plaza will already be publicly accessible from November 2016.  

illustration Plaza © Herzog & de Meuron


Plaza south/windbreak, June 2015 © Oliver Heissner


Car Park, March 2009 © Oliver Heissner


West Elevation, July 2015 © Thies Rätzke