At least that’s what the city of Hamburg is hoping its new concert hall will be: an iconic structure to rival the Sydney Opera House in sweep and grandeur.
For now, the immense brick and concrete mass jutting out into the harbour of this northern German city at the mouth of the Elbe is a tangled mess of scaffolding, cranes, support beams and butt cracks – nothing unusual as concrete gets poured and sets the same way all over the world.
Nothing unusual about the tangled mess of financing it has become, either. We taxpayers are going to be on the hook for upwards of a half-billion euros by the time the first violin string is heard in 2013, a cost explosion that’s pissing off Hamburg citizens no end as we ride along crumbling streets dodging the potholes, witness cutbacks at daycare centres, schools and other social services, and on and on.
But there’s no turning back. It’s going to be there, it’s going to be stunning, and it’s a must-see – not just for the architecture itself but for the new vantage point upon what Germans call Germany’s most beautiful city. Especially when compared to Frankfurt.
I got a look behind the scenes at the work in progress on a tour with 25 colleagues the other day. After signing papers saying we knew we were entering a construction zone and the dangers involved, and agreeing not to make any audio or video recordings or pee in any corners, we donned gumboots and hard hats and set off for the walk along the quay to the site.
The first thing you see is the first rows of what will be nearly 1,100 huge one-tonne glass panels, each one individually curved in a random pattern to give the impression of choppy seascapes, and shaded with patterns of miniscule round dots for protection from the sun.
It’s so huge, it took nearly three hours to see it all, but it may have been because we lingered so long at the midpoint: a wide, open space several storeys above ground that anyone will be able to enter without so much as a ticket. You’ll get there by stepping at ground level upon a long, sloping escalator similar to those long causeways we now take for granted at airports. At the top of the escalator you’ll step out at the west end, where the building juts out to its narrowest point.
From there you can hang out and enjoy the view in any direction, go to a restaurant, check into the hotel, settle into a seat at one of the three concert halls, or simply head home – if you’ve got the bucks to already put a down payment on one of about 45 flats that will be selling for about €17,500 a square metre in what will be the city’s highest living spaces.
What will make the huge public space unique is that it will be a wide-open sandwich slice half-way up the building. The lower half is actually a reinforced refurbishment of an old brick warehouse. As you walk around the open public space – for now a stark jumble of dangling wires, stacks of insulation, piping and cement mix – you will be able to walk under and around what looks from below like a concrete soup kettle to feed 1.5 million – with leftovers. That’s the underside of the main concert hall, and it’s going to remain bare and white, a stark reminder of the building’s main function.
The open middle space is quite windy, though, and on stormy days I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to close it off. Either that or have ropes along pathways so you can keep from getting swept away into the river.
Err, umm, speaking of which, I should mention that when one of our group asked if they’ll let just anyone go up there to hang around if they’re worried about terrorism, our guide said they’re already thinking not of terrorism, but that because it’s such an open space – with very little in the way of barriers and with such a huge drop-off to the water below – that it will become a magnet for jumpers much as the Golden Gate Bridge has sadly become.
Moving right along…
Up and around, through a wide doorway, suddenly you’re standing on stage – or the area that will be the concert hall’s stage. Though you’re looking right now at its raw concrete and metal skeleton, your jaw drops – it took my breath away – just looking at the scale of the 2,160-seat main hall.
Pulling ourselves away from the open space we walked the steps up another dozen or so floors – where the apartments will be – to the highest point. For the first time I saw the entire sweep of the lower Elbe from the harbour all the way down to Wedel, my usual cycling target about 20km away. It’s an amazing sight and one I won’t forget soon.
Anyone can take tours if they book far enough in advance. Hint-hint, people! You don’t reeeeaaaallly want to meet up this year in Frankensteinfurt, do you?