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Financial Nightmare, Architectural Dream


The developers of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall decided it should be seen as the undisputed symbol of the harbour city. But whether they attain this objective will depend in large measure on future progress with the construction. To date, there have been numerous explosions in cost and missed completion deadlines; construction of the so-called ‘Glass Wave’ has been the subject of public comment. No decision has yet been announced as to whether taxpayers will be asked to cough up the extra: the initial quote was for 77 million Euros, and now costs have risen to at least 323 million Euros.

When appearing before the Parliamentary Committee investigating the Elbphilharmonie on 17 November, star-architect Pierre de Meuron (61) criticised the Adamanta project management (a consortium of builders Hochtief and Commerz Real AG) for driving up the costs of virtually everything associated with the project.

Leaving aside for the moment current disagreements about dubious cost calculations and the reasons for missed deadlines, the Elbphilharmonie is now Europe’s biggest cultural construction project and in many respects exudes an enormous fascination.

Of particular interest to the construction and building industries: The total weight of the structure is a highly impressive 200,000 tons, while the gross area of each floor is about 120,000 square metres. The design features elegant bent and curved shapes for which the construction required 8,000 tons of steel.

The concert hall is on a foundation of typical Hamburg red brick, where once stood a massive quayside warehouse known as Kaispeicher A. To prevent collapse of the outer walls following removal of the core structure, these were reinforced with eight 340-metre steel belts. The structure derives its strength from 1,111 pre-existing piles, now supplemented by 650 steel piles driven into River Elbe sludge.

The main external eye-catching feature is certainly the glass facade, which consists of about 1,096 individual elements totalling a spectacular 21,500 square metres and made using an innovative process. Each glass element is unique, with carefully positioned deformations: the hotel section has wave-shaped ventilation hatches, while apartments have horseshoe-shaped balconies. The glass facade panels have a chromatic printed dot raster that serves both as a sunscreen and as a design feature reflecting light onto the facade. The raster density for each window was individually calculated in accordance with the use to which the respective room is put. Each section of multi-functional insulating glass is unique and manufactured by niche supplier Josef Gartner GmbH of Gundelfingen in South Germany.

Ships in Hamburg harbour have radar, which calls for integral radar signal attenuation by the glass facade. Above a given height, the south and west facades have a denser printed image so incoming ships can locate the Elbphilharmonie.

The glass elements are linked by screw-adjustable modules mounted on steel backing fixtures, but Josef Gartner will say no more; the rest is a trade secret.

Hopefully the current disagreements will soon be resolved and construction will continue so that residents, tourists and culture-vultures from around the world will soon be able to enjoy live music in the Elbphilharmonie.


Tours of the construction site; Europe’s biggest concert hall construction site

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