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Herzog & de Meuron

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has a new landmark to join the Speicherstadt, an island complex of bonded warehouses, and Fritz Höger’s Chilehaus - both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Elbphilharmonie is a Stadtkrone that dominates the skyline as a cathedral does in older cities. Like the Sydney Opera House it stands apart on a site that juts into the harbor and captures the spirit of the water in its wave-like profile. Both buildings were engineered by Arup. As in Sydney, Hamburg’s new icon will pay for itself many times over, making the overruns of cost and scheduling quite forgettable. There are also significant differences. In 1957, when juror Eero Saarinen plucked Jørn Utzon’s competition entry from the reject pile, there was no software to translate his vision into reality. It took years to develop shapes that could be built, and Utzon was blamed and banished for problems caused by managerial incompetence and the contractor’s shortcomings. Locals derided the project - “copulating turtles” was one sneer - and it destroyed the architect’s career. In contrast, Herzog & de Meuron’s concept was acclaimed from the start - by public and planners - and it has retained its integrity through 13 years of design development and stop-go construction. In 2002, architect-developer Alexander Gérard proposed a new concert hall inside the Kaispeicher A warehouse. An austere brick wedge, it was constructed in 1963 to replace a war-devastated storage facility - just before Hamburg’s port moved to a deeper stretch of the Elbe to accommodate container ships. Gérard met with Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, former classmates at the ETH in Zurich, and they quickly sketched a glass-clad complex extruded from the warehouse, treating it as a plinth. Apartments and a hotel would wrap around two centrally located auditoriums; parking, support spaces, public amenities and...

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