Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie was ambitious, costly and extraordinary - can we have one too?

The amazing German concert hall was hit by hold-ups, setbacks and budget overruns, but the result more than made up for the delay

The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg’s old docklands is now a signature destination  in northern Germany. Photograph:   Bodo Marks/AFP/Getty Images

The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg’s old docklands is now a signature destination in northern Germany. Photograph: Bodo Marks/AFP/Getty Images

 

Great things come to those who wait, and that certainly goes for the patient folks of Hamburg. A few weeks ago the city’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall finally opened its doors. The long wait for architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron’s spectacular glass structure on the roof of an old warehouse was finally over.

Just how long this particular building project has taken can be gauged from On the Record’s own back pages. There’s a column from September 2006, following a visit to the site of the hall, which talked about plans for the venue.

“Standing on top of the warehouse on a sunny September afternoon, it’s hard to believe that this roof will soon be home to a couple of auditoriums, a public plaza, a club, a hotel, apartments, restaurants and cafes by 2009. You really have to applaud the chutzpah and ambition of the city’s planners.”

So 2009? Well, there’s optimism for you. As is always the way with projects of this ilk, there were hold-ups, setbacks and overruns. The budget more than tripled from €241 million to the final figure of €789 million by the time construction ended last October. Only time will tell if this proves to be value for money and if the “chutzpah and ambition of the city’s planners” will be rewarded.

Spectacular and striking

Regardless of these considerations, Hamburg now has a signature destination in its old docklands. The venue looks even more spectacular and striking than it did on those architectural plans and drawings more than a decade ago and is already a draw for tourists visiting the city. 

But the real talking point is at the box office, where they are selling tickets for the two music spaces. Shows are sold out right through the opening season as Hamburgers take the opportunity to check out the new venue. Every single show is a must-see as people come to experience this landmark building jutting like a ship into the Elbe. Civic pride is at bursting point.

It’s easy to understand the fuss and palaver when a new venue of this ilk brings a spark and a shine to a city. After Dublin’s Point Depot had outlived its usefulness and people weren’t prepared to put up with its terrible acoustics and facilities any more, the revamped venue which is now the 3Arena opened to much hurrahing in late 2008. Many who went to shows there in the opening months did so to get a good gawk at the venue as much as to take in who was on stage.

Cork Event Centre

While the Point was a relatively quick job, it looks like Ireland’s version of the Elbphilharmonie saga may well be happening with the proposed 6,000-capacity Cork Event Centre.

Work was supposed to be underway already on the site of the former Beamish brewery in the city centre with plans for the then €150 million centre to open in 2018.

The chance of that happening will be a fine thing, judging by the current state of play. There have been recent requests for more state funding – €20 million has been ringfenced for what will be a Live Nation-operated venue – and there are also believed to be plans for more student accommodation on the site, which may cause more planning hold-ups.

But, as the good people of Hamburg could tell Leeside citizens, the hold-ups and cost may well be worth it in the end, if Cork ends up with a venue as striking as the Elbphilharmonie. Buildings and halls which make a serious municipal statement don’t just happen overnight. 

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