The controversial and much anticipated Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg opened its doors this January to the praise of critics and design buffs across the globe. The project, which cost the city of Hamburg an astronomical 789-million euros ($1.13-billion Canadian)—about 10 times the original budget—and took over a decade to build, has been at the centre of major public protest and political debate in Germany, and has left many wondering whether it was all worth the wait, and the price tag.
Designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, the ambitious new building has reportedly received more than one million visitors since it opened. Located in Hamburg’s ultra-modern HafenCity waterfront district (known also as Harbour City), the concert hall has brought a surge of tourists and design enthusiasts to the city’s otherwise tranquil shores. The day I visit in mid-March, there are scores of people crowding the entrance, patiently waiting to get in. I’m told that tickets for the Elbphilharmonie’s first musical season have been sold out for weeks, totalling 500,000 tickets in all. The inauguration concerts held on January 11 and 12 welcomed more than 4,500 guests to its halls. Among those in attendance were Joachim Gauck, the former president of Germany, Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, due to heavy traffic, arrived 30 minutes late, delaying the festivities.
Set atop a historic brick warehouse facing the Elbe River, Hamburg’s Elphilharmonie has become something of a design destination overnight. Some have gone so far as to compare it to the likes of Sydney’s Opera House and Frank Ghery’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao—modern-day icons that, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, have come to symbolize the cities in which they inhabit.
Measuring 110 meters in height, the Elbphilharmonie, with its striking scintillating glass façade, stands out against a backdrop of modern and industrial low-rise buildings. The concert hall’s dazzling crested rooftop catches the sunlight like a rippled wave, sending shimmering rays across the river, and beyond. Inside, a set of escalators enclosed in a sequenced white tube lead guests to the main lobby and observation deck. The slow-moving escalators are slightly curved, so as to hide the end from sight. Designed to feel like the inside of a grotto, the lobby area features low, curved ceilings and dramatic beams set at gravity-defying angles. A wavy glass wall separates the interior and exterior areas, and gives the impression of a fluid curtain of flowing water. The plaza, an open public space set in between where the original brick warehouse walls and the shining new glass structure meet, offers spectacular views of the city and the docks below.
A series of curved staircases and criss-crossing passageways leads to a recital hall and the show-stopping grand hall. Clad in a thick layer of undulating oak wood panels, the recital hall is intimate and somewhat understated. The main hall by contrast is as grand as it gets. Designed in collaboration with Japanese acoustics specialist Yasuhisa Toyota, the intricate, coral-like interior recalls the strangeness and splendour of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Cratered acoustic tiles CNC-milled from gypsum fibreboard cover nearly every inch of the room, doubling as a decorative, tactile skin. Sculpted balconies circle the stage, providing clear views to the orchestra below. An enormous mushroom-shaped acoustic reflector and chandelier plunges from the ceiling, adding a theatrical punch to the ethereal landscape.
The building’s striking aesthetics are the consummation of a conceptual mélange, a mishmash of complementing, and at times contradicting, visual themes. Inspired by the vision of a wave, a sail at sea, a tent, and a cave, the Elbphilharmonie exhibits traces of each. It’s almost as if the architects couldn’t settle on a single idea. Despite being long overdue and tremendously over budget, the new concert hall did get one thing right at least: whether for or against, visitors to the Elbphilharmonie can’t help but feel the slightest bit impressed.
Photos by Iwan Baan and Maxim Schulz
NANAN, WROCLAW, POLAND
Pretty in millennial pink.
The plush interior of Nanan Patisserie by Polish design firm Buck Studio is as sweet as it gets. To the delight of foodies and design enthusiasts worldwide, the 96-square-metre, 14-seat café opened its doors in Wroclaw, Poland, last year, serving traditional French pralines and pastries (the éclair in particular).
While their desserts are alluring, however, it’s Nanan’s lovely decor that’s won the hearts of many patrons. Sitting pretty in the tint du moment, rose quartz (also known as millennial pink), Nanan puts the trendy colour to work, with mouth-watering results. The versatile peachy-salmon hue, co-appointed Colour of the Year 2016 by colour authority Pantone, has taken the fashion and furniture industries by storm with its soft, understated charm and neutrality; it’s pretty without being girly, subtle yet not boring. A stylistic nod to the rise of unisex fashion, the shade has perhaps paradoxically become an emblem of both inclusivity and definitive good taste.
At Nanan, about 50 slightly distinct tones of pink pair with voluptuous architectural curves, delicate brass details, and lush surfaces in velvet and marble; the patisserie feels at once retro and modern, timeless yet very much now. Informed by the éclair’s oblong shape, the space is marked by an oval motif, which can be spotted in the arched windows, doorways, tables, and most notably, in the bespoke display counter and light fixtures. Minimalist restraint meets sultry flair for an overall design that’s equal parts dapper and dainty.
Every aspect of the Nanan project, from signage, to packaging, to staff attire, was created in collaboration with Buck Studio, making for a totally holistic and harmonious atmosphere that’s as refined as its menu.
Photos courtesy of Buck Studio
Designed in 2016 for the Serpentine Galleries’ annual Serpentine Pavilion exhibition in London, the extremely photogenic “unzipped wall” pavilion by international architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group is on its way to Vancouver. Before arriving to its permanent new seaside home near Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Cauldron in 2019, the unzipped pavilion—which was arguably one of the Serpentine’s most successful installations to date—will travel across North America (with stops projected for Toronto and New York).
Some background: each year, the Serpentine Galleries commission a temporary summer pavilion in Kensington Gardens, crafted by an international architect who has yet to build on British soil. Announced annually in February, the winning architect has a mere six months to fully finance and deliver their design in time for the annual June opening.
The inaugural 2000 Serpentine Pavilion was designed by the late Zaha Hadid as a favour to the Serpentine Galleries, which at the time, had only one location (the second Serpentine Sackler Gallery, also designed by Hadid, opened a few years later in 2013). The visionary Iraqi-British architect created an all-white marquee tent-inspired structure. Marked by a dramatic triangulated roof, folds in the pavilion’s angular architecture dipped down to the ground, organically dividing up the spaces inside.
Commissioned as a provisional space in which to hold the original Serpentine Galleries’s 30th anniversary festivities, the first Serpentine Pavilion was designed to stand for one day only. On the night of the event, however, the pavilion was deemed impressive enough to remain throughout the summer. And thus, somewhat by chance, a new design exhibition was born.
For the 2016 pavilion, Bjarke Ingels took the most basic architectural structure—the humble brick wall—and aesthetically “unzipped” it, turning it into a tent-like structure shaped almost fluidly, like a blob of whipped cream rendered in 8-bit animation. Compiled of a stack of fibreglass bricks, the 541-square-metre structure is a testament to the power of simplicity. Unfurling from the bottom up, the semitransparent wall pulls apart, creating an atmospheric passageway. Totaling 1,802 bricks in all, the pavilion’s modular structure was in fact designed by BIG to ultimately be sold and transported. Vancouver-based developer Westbank, a major sponsor of Ingels’s Serpentine Pavilion and BIG’s development partner for the upcoming Vancouver House residential tower, jumped on the opportunity. The BIG pavilion will be located at the foot of Westbank’s Shaw Tower headquarters in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood, where it will become another example of the corporation’s dedication to diversifying Vancouver’s contemporary architectural features.
This year, Berlin-based Diébédo Francis Kéré of Burkina Faso will take the stage in London with a contemplative, tree-like pavilion design. Whether or not it will stack up to BIG’s unzipped pavilion, time can only tell.
Sushi, sake, and sci-fi.
Cherry blossoms are famously ephemeral, but Montrealers can enjoy them year-round at Le Blossom, a stylish new sushi and sakébar in the Village neighbourhood. Designed by local firm Atelier Mainor, Le Blossom boasts an unusual and trendy atmosphere that feels like an upscale cocktail lounge, space capsule, and garden hybrid.
Guillaume Ménard, Atelier Mainor’s principal designer, anchors the dining room around an impressive European beech wood central bar, which occupies most of the 1,500-square-foot space and seats 32 of the venue’s 50 possible patrons. The bar forms a giant zigzag that stretches across the dining area, creating, explains Ménard, unique vistas for everyone to enjoy as they dine. “Even though the space is small, it might take a few visits before you feel like you really get to know it,” he says. The combination of mirrors and glossy porcelain and steel finishes add to a sense of variety and depth.
While the bar is certainly an impressive feature, the real centerpiece at Le Blossom is the custom-made cherry tree that jets out from the restaurant’s smaller secondary bar, wowing visitors as they walk through the door. Designed by Ménard but fabricated in China by a company that specializes in faux foliage, the tree flaunts a voluptuous crown of candy-pink silk petals. “It took a lot of work to get right, but the end result is just perfect,” says Ménard.
Inspiration for Le Blossom’s slick interiors came from an unlikely source: 1980s sci-fi thrillers. An aficionado of film, the 35-year-old designer confesses that he often turns to cinema, in this case Blade Runner designer Syd Mead, for aesthetic and conceptual clues. “What I love about design in film, especially in sci-fi film, is that it’s so free… set designers can really play and run with their imaginations,” he explains. Futuristic elements are subtly woven into every inch of Le Blossom’s design, from the sleek aluminum blinds that clad the windows, to the flying saucer-shaped pendant lights that hang from the ceiling. One can see the influence of the sci-fi master’s past, and how retro conceptions of futuristic design manifest in the restaurant’s decor. “It’s subtle,” Ménard says, “but there’s definitely some Syd Mead there.”