A number of statement projects in Hamburg's redeveloped harbour district are bringing a new sense of perspective to the city
Rising from the water's edge like a giant iceberg, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall peeks out behind the masts of harbour boats and above the brick facades of industrial buildings, as if slyly winking at Hamburg's low-rise skyline through its convex, semi-spherical windows.
Perched atop a former cacao factory at the tip of Hamburg's now largely redundant but once bustling harbour, the building occupies a pivotal position in a city that is defined by its relationship with water and the trade that came with it. With its crested roof and glass walls that ripple and bulge, the new Elbphilharmonie, or Elphie as it's popularly known, adds a fresh note to the revitalised HafenCity waterfront. The structure also provides an alternative view of the city, offering sweeping vistas of cargo ships and 19th-century buildings from its viewing deck, hotel rooms and luxury residences. The building's less obvious triumph is a remarkable auditorium that appears to have been chiselled out of molten rock. Inside the concert hall, reached via a four-minute escalator ride through a sequined white tube, wraparound balconies rise up like steep rock strata, 1,000 sparkling hand-blown bulbs adorn the ceilings, and 10,000 gypsum fibre acoustic panels line the sculpted walls. No two panels absorb or scatter sound waves alike, but together they create a balanced reverberation across the entire auditorium, which appears, when the lights are dimmed, like some giant underwater quarry.
When Herzog & de Meuron first unveiled images of the Elbphilharmonie in 2003, it captured the public's imagination and was adopted by the city as a plan of national importance. But during its drawn-out construction phase (the project was delivered seven years late) it became subject to a catalogue of disputes, lawsuits and a lengthy parliamentary inquiry. There was public outrage at the cost, which ballooned to €789m by the time it was completed in 2017. A resulting 800-page report noted wryly that "the claim of a public sector building to be counted among world architecture does not necessarily extend to toilet brushes costing €291.97 each".
But today it seems Hamburgers are warming to the hall; many feel a sense of pride at having realised an iconic work of architecture that has put the city in the spotlight. Germany is known more for its historic buildings than modern ones, but comparisons are now been made with Bilbao – the Spanish city that became a major tourist spot following Frank Gehry's Guggenheim. The waterfront location also brings Sydney's Opera House to mind, another architectural icon that was criticised during its construction for overrunning budgets and deadlines.
Many feel a sense of pride at having realised an iconic work of architecture that has put the city in the spotlight
"I think any time an architectural wonder occurs the city grows up around it," says interior designer Kate Hume, who is based in Amsterdam but has worked on several projects in Hamburg, including the show flat at the Elbphilharmonie Residences.
Hume's approach to the model residence, which is located on the 18th floor and has expansive harbour views, was to highlight the tones of the city below with a palette of soft grey and aqua, deep charcoal and purple, and dashes of gilded glamour. "The colour story came from the fact it's on the water," she explains. "I wanted the colours you see in the city, copper on the roofs and the way the city is lit at night, there is a very specific blue light on the harbour after dark."The developers also wanted the model unit to be 'turnkey', Hume says, "with linen, cutlery… everything." Her studio worked closely with Tai Ping to create custom carpets and drew from the developer's own collection for the contemporary art. Hume, who is known for her glass collections, also created bespoke blown-glass pieces, as well as upholstery and joinery.
Following the success of the Elbphilharmonie, the same developer enlisted Hume to work on The Tortue, a new boutique hotel located in a 19th-century complex recently refurbished by David Chipperfield Architects. The firm restored the property's original columns and soaring ceilings, its wrought-iron marquees as well as mosaic tiled flooring and tall arched windows. From the outside the hotel's understated brick exterior blends in with the Stadhofe neighbourhood. Inside, the space pops with Hume's bold use of lilac, blue and red.
The hotel rooms, each a different colour, feature bespoke wallpaper by Amsterdam's Little Owl Design, smooth brass Areti pendant lamps and sleek bathrooms covered in marble-inspired tiles. "I wanted [the project] to have a classical reference," Hume says. "And I want you to come in and feel you've arrived somewhere."
The Tortue's newly completed spaces also include Jin Gui, a sleek Pan-Asian eatery by Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang. The restaurant is located facing an inner courtyard on the hotel's lower level and is fitted with seductive copper tones, pendant lights and loveseats upholstered in graphic, tapestry-like fabric.
Further uptown on the shores of Alster Lake, another recent addition to Hamburg's hospitality scene is The Fontenay Hamburg, a curvy luxury hotel designed by local architect Jan Störmer whose firm, Störmer Murphy and Partners, is also designing Germany's first wooden skyscraper in Hamburg's HafenCity.For the hotel, Störmer says he took reference from the area's existing 19th-century buildings and leafy lakeside location. "It was crucial that a hotel in the park not have a back side as it is surrounded by trees and should be flooded with light," Störmer says. "I came up with this idea of a fluid form of three circles, intertwining with one another creating two large courtyards with a very organic exterior shape."
Störmer's circular design repeats itself throughout the hotel and in the centre the three circles intertwine and narrow and courtyards branch off to both sides. The enclosed atriums and open landscaped courtyard aim to bring the leafy surroundings into the hotel. Each of the 130 rooms faces outwards and features interiors from Berlin-based Christian Meinert, who painted them in natural shades of beige, green onyx, turquoise and blues.
While design-driven projects are emerging throughout Hamburg, HafenCity is the site of the bulk of new development. As one of Europe's most ambitious urban construction sites – essentially a new sustainable city core set over 157ha that will mix residential development, storefront shops, parks, entertainment venues, a cruise-ship terminal, a school, a university and offices – the area provides an idea of what Hamburg will become."HafenCity opens a whole new chapter for the city," Jacques Herzog remarked upon the Elbphilharmonie's A cross and a bell in the hollows of the HafenCity Chapel, designed by Wandel Lorch Architekten completion. "From an urban spatial perspective, it turns in a completely different direction, away from the Alster and toward the mouth of the Elbe, essentially toward the sea."
In addition to Germany's first wooden high-rise, plans have been revealed for a new tower by David Chipperfield Architects. The Elbtower, a tapered 230m skyscraper in HafenCity is set to become the city's tallest. Early renderings show a facade clad in a screen of cambered, light-coloured aluminium that will play with shifting light reflections during the day and become a "kinetic sculpture" at night.
The design intends to act as a "counterpoint" to the Elbphilharmonie, to complement and contrast the concert hall, the architects say. Completion is scheduled for 2025 – here's hoping the construction timeline is a counterpoint, too.