The Grand Hall: The Heart of the Elbphilharmonie

Another milestone towards an extraordinary acoustic is achieved: the 6,000 square metre - and worldwide unique - wall and ceiling membrane in the Great Hall of the Elbphilharmonie is finished. In addition to room geometry and materials, the »White Skin« is responsible for the perfect distribution of sound in the concert hall. It consists of 10,000 sheets of gypsum and paper, each weighing on average 70 kilograms.

The Grand Hall of the Elbphilharmonie with is destined to be one of the finest in the world. It is not designed in the classical »shoebox« layout, where music is projected from the front. Instead, the architects chose the »vineyard« design: The orchestra takes its place in the middle of the hall and the audience is seated around on all sides, the seating rising up as in a stadium – similar to the terraced planting of vineyards. The advantages of this layout are obvious: unobstructed sightlines of the stage from every seat. Furthermore, this circular seating reflects the 21st century’s concept of music – a shared, intense face-to-face experience with music and musicians.

Responsible for optimal acoustics is one of the world’s leading specialists, Yasuhisa Toyota. With his company Nagata Acoustics, he developed the acoustics for the Suntory Hall in Tokyo and the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. To ensure perfect acoustics in the Grand Hall a special surface was developed for the walls and ceiling – the »white skin« – which is unique throughout the world. Ten thousand gypsum fibre panels, milled on the basis of intricate 3-D calculations, reflect the sound in each corner of the hall and guarantee an optimal listening experience from every seat. In addition, a reflector in the centre of the ceiling reflects the sound of the orchestra equally throughout the hall. It also contains light engineering equipment and an organ register. The Grand Hall is completely isolated from the rest of the building. It’s a masterly accomplishment: 2.100 theatre seats, 50 metres above the ground, and weighing a total of 12.500 tonnes, rest on enormous steel springs. Thus no outside noise reaches the concert hall; no amount of hustle and bustle on the Plaza or ships steaming in and out of the harbour can disturb a concert.

Yasuhisa Toyota first calculated the surround sound for the Grand Hall designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron using highly complex 3-D computer models. Next, he built a 1:10 scale model of the Grand Hall. To simulate the audience 2.000 tiny felt dolls were seated in the model concert hall and dozens of sensitive microphones positioned to record the sound coming from the stage. Toyota spent weeks analysing the data to »tune« the hall. Exciting architecture and perfect sound are thus closely interconnected at the opening of the Elbphilharmonie.

The Recital Hall and the Kaistudio

In addition to the Grand Hall, the Elbphilharmonie will house two other concert halls. The Recital Hall retains the classic »shoebox« layout and with a seating capacity of 550 is designed particularly with chamber music in mind. Equipped with flexible seating, it becomes versatile for other events such as balls or conferences. Right at the top of the old warehouse construction is the Kaistudio with a seating capacity of 170. It is designed for contemporary and experimental music, children’s concerts, or as a place for orchestral and choir rehearsals.