11 January 2017

Elbphilharmonie: Hamburg’s dazzling, costly castle in the air

The Elbphilharmonie, to give it its proper name, offers a sequence of visual and architectural other worldliness that starts with distant glimpses from the centre of the city and doesn’t stop when you reach your seat in one of its three auditoria, of 2,100, 550 and 150 seats. Its exterior, 110 metres high, is glassy and opalescent, curvy on top, above the brick block of the warehouse, a crystal on top of a rock, teetering because bigger than its base, but also lighter looking. Alternatively – and if metaphors are mixed it’s because the building provokes it – it is a cloud on a cliff, a sail, a wave, a ship, an iceberg, a tent. The main auditorium is both bubble and cave, its surfaces unified with a wrinkled, variegated, fascinatingly repellent surface that its architects call “white skin” but is really greyish and not-human, more pachydermic, dinosaurian or alien, or rather, as it’s hard, like moon rock.