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Showcase concert hall divides Hamburg

AFP · 27 Jun 2010, 11:54

Published: 27 Jun 2010 11:54 GMT+02:00

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Construction delays, building defects and a price explosion have led even the developers to admit the landmark "Elbphilharmonie" project has hurtled out of control, with no one able to say what the hall will finally cost or when it will open.

Meanwhile local artists fear the audacious development at the city's 800-year-old port will eclipse the scruffy homegrown cultural scene that gave rise to future legends like The Beatles, who cut their teeth in Hamburg's red-light district clubs.

Jutting out from the end of a pier straddling the Elbe River and the city, the Elbphilharmonie will take a boxy brick former warehouse as its base, and perch a breathtaking glass structure recalling frozen waves on top.

Sandwiched between the two levels, a public plaza will offer stunning views of the "Gateway to the World" port and the spires of the charming Hanseatic League city while guests wait to attend concerts by the world's top orchestras.

The building will stretch 110 metres (360 feet) in height, from the more than 1,700 supporting piles under the warehouse to the signature undulating lines of the roof.

As a boon to investors, the architects Herzog & de Meuron, who designed Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games, are adding posh apartments on the west side of the building and a luxury hotel on the east.

The city aims to create one of the world's top 10 concert halls with 2,150 seats and acoustics designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, best known for his work at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, as well as two smaller venues.

The development is part of a bold new vision for the port district, currently the biggest construction project in Europe.

But such ambition has its price. Originally budgeted at €114 million ($140 million), the projected costs have ballooned to an estimated €323 million, and few in the city expect that to be the end of the story.

And hopes to open the concert hall this year have been dashed, with a new target date of 2012, more than five years after construction first began, looking ever more elusive.

Karl Olaf Petters, spokesman for the city's cultural affairs office, acknowledges that nagging construction problems and legal disputes have thrown spanners in the works.

"Not everything has gone as planned," he said with a wry smile. "But the excitement and curiosity about the hall are unbroken - this will be a magical place."

At an official presentation of the building's towering skeleton late last month, Mayor Ole von Beust said the dream was to create an indelible landmark on the order of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or Sydney Opera House.

But, not unlike the breathtaking but wildly over-budget masterpiece in Australia, von Beust admitted the Hamburg project had veered off course since it was first conceived.

"I don't know if we would have had the courage to do it if we were starting now," he said. "But when it is finished, no one will question the artistic and creative achievement behind this building."

Outside, a handful of toga-wearing demonstrators sang protest songs and

passed out hand-printed €350-million bills emblazoned with the question: "With billions in debt, do we need a memorial for Ole?" referring to the aristocratic mayor.

Hamburg, whose metropolitan area has 4.3 million residents, has an annual deficit of more than €550 million and von Beust has launched a punishing austerity drive.

Elbphilharmonie director Christoph Lieben-Seutter dismissed criticism that his hall would become the 800-pound gorilla of the Hamburg's artistic scene, or that it was simply a gift to the city's elites.

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"You need a rock and a pop music scene and then you need something like the

Elbphilharmonie - they shouldn't be pitted against each other but rather complement and enrich each other," he told news agency AFP.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said the only thing that has not driven a wedge through the city is the hall's groundbreaking design. "A building that no one doesn't like - when was the last time you saw that in contemporary architecture?" it wrote.

Petters admits that Hamburg, long known for its northern-style reserve and modesty, was acting a bit out of character with this bid for global prominence. "There is something playful, almost crazy, about what we are doing," he said. "It is not necessary but by the same token, neither was Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."

Local residents, Germany's richest per capita in a major city, said that while they were curious about the new hall, they were worried it might be an indulgence they cannot afford.

"The exploding costs are a scandal, plain and simple," said 61-year-old teacher Doris Heidhoff. "But yes, I expect I'll be standing in line to get in when the thing finally opens."

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Your comments about this article

12:36 June 27, 2010 by piper1
"rival the Sydney opera House"??? You have got to be kidding.

This matchbox is an eyesore.

Another waste of taxpayers money
15:05 June 27, 2010 by hanskarl
If they wish to rival the Sydney they need to go back to their drawing board. This is a near impossibility in any city let alone Hamburg. Something more provincial representing the Hanseatic league not the sea. Alas, it is too late.
16:29 June 27, 2010 by twisted
With all of the problems that Hamburg has and badly in need of money, this project is a total waste. It is only going to cater to the wealthy...the money would have been better spent on schools, kindergartens, street repairs, police, and playgrounds for the kids....things that pretty much everyone uses. I think it is just unthinkable that the costs for this this project have ballooned way out of proportion. Who ever did their contracting should be fired.
23:15 June 27, 2010 by whatzup
This monstrosity will haunt the city of Hamburg and its politicians for years to come. The city is crying that it has no money and yet it finds itself paying the bill for this piece of pretentious silliness. Just goes to prove that the monied class has no idea of what real culture is all about yet it finds the where with all to cater to reactionary tastes on the social services dime. If we're lucky some wayward ocean liner will careen out of control on the Elbe and wipe the whole thing out.
10:07 June 28, 2010 by ovbg
I must smile at the comments above, as they sound almost identical to what was said as the Sydney Opera House was under construction. The population of Sydney hated it. There were protests by thousands of people and everyone declared it an eyesore. Only once it was finished and people stood back did they take it in and realize what a wonderful addition it was to the city.

In fact, the same could be said about the Eiffel Tower. It was so hated during it's construction the local newspapers constantly attacked it and famous artists, poets and authors called for it's destruction. How many of us would be pleased to see it destroyed today?

Whether this would be a rival to the Sydney Opera House will always be something to debate. The SOH is such an iconic building. However, this will certainly be a great asset for the city of Hamburg. Good vision will always create great debate. Architecture is like art and always a preserve for the past in the minds of many people.

Wait until it's finished, then look back with fresh eyes. You will probably still hate it ;O) But it took decades for most iconic modern structures to be loved by their citizens.
11:43 June 28, 2010 by nycinhamburg
Regarding the comments above and those who agree with them I just have one thing to say. Patience! As ovbg said above, the SOH was not popular, neither was the Eiffel Tower. I am from NYC and the same was said about the WTC until that tragic day and we still miss it, not only the loss of life but the iconic skyline of NYC will never be the same. Hamburg is adding a beautiful building that will serve several purposes. The greatest monuments and buildings in the world were not build without controversy.

So stop being negative nancy's and be happy that you live in a city that looks to the future and not the past. Sure HH has its problems but it has soooo many great things going for it as well!
14:05 June 28, 2010 by Flying Scot
If you think this is ugly,have you seen the Scottish Parliament building .
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