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Architectural icons: Philharmonie

Architectural icons: Philharmonie

by Sarita Rao 3 min. 22.08.2022 From our online archive
The 800 plus columns were designed to maximise the accoustics inside this unusual building on the Kirchberg plateau
Organ pipes, the body of a fish, or a whale opening it's mouth? Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro Lora
Organ pipes, the body of a fish, or a whale opening it's mouth? Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro Lora

Award-winning French architect Christian de Portzamparc added a new iconic building to Kirchberg when the Luxembourg Philharmonie opened its doors in 2005.

Unusual use of columns

His unusual design of the Luxembourg Philharmonie incorporates 823 or 827 facade columns. Why two numbers? It depends on how you count them, as some do not go from the ground to the roof.

To me the building resembles a whale opening its mouth

Alfonso Salgueiro Lora, house photographer for the Philharmonie

The striking white steel pillars are arranged in three or four rows curling around the building, and evoke numerous images for the onlooker from organ pipes to the body of a fish. Inside, the facade filters the light.

Some columns support a glass membrane, others serve for air diffusion, and yet others carry oil that mitigates unnecessary vibrations and help to manage better acoustics inside the building. At night, the structure is lit up with changing colours.

Inside the elliptical foyer allows visitors access to three auditoria, built to maximise the acoustic qualities for the musicians and audience. The biggest, the Grand Auditorium can hold some 1,500 spectators, with ramps, stairs and footways leading to it.

Adjustable acoustics

Unusual lines of geometry Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro Lora
Unusual lines of geometry Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro Lora

The acoustic design is the work of Chinese-born Albert Yaying Xu and AVEL Acoustique's Jean-Paul Lamoureux and Jérôme Falala. Designed around the concept of a "shoebox", the acoustics in the Grand Auditorium can be adapted to different musical demands with an adjustable reflector, and the stage has 21 modifiable platforms to allow for numerous stage settings.

Never seen deliveries to the Philharmonie? That's because they can be made underneath the building, whilst the top of the building can be opened and closed to manage the acoustics. Even the seats in the Grand Auditorium can be moved up and down.

A photographer's view

Alfonso Salgueiro Lora is a house photographer for the Luxembourg Philharmonie: "As a photographer I see buildings not just as architecture or art, but as utility spaces – used by people and enjoyed for their aesthetics and the way they change or mould the cityscape."

Admitting he is biased as he photographs both the building and the concerts inside on a regular basis, he says: "The white columns that support it provide a beautiful contrast with the curved shape of the building, and a real feast for the eye. I've walked around the building many times looking at the lines of geometry, but I almost always find new things to admire. To me the building resembles a whale opening its mouth, and the columns are the whale bones."

Social function 

Born in 1944 in Morocco, Christian de Portzamparc's architecture emphasises open neighbourhoods based around poles of attractions, with an accent on the social function of architecture. The first French architect to win the Pritzker Prize in 1994, De Portzamparc designed the French Embassy in Berlin, and New York's One57 Tower.

Concerts, tours or just admire

If you want to admire the Luxembourg Philharmonie you should head for the terrace at La Table du Belvedere on weekdays at lunchtime. The Luxembourg City Tourist Office has a tour of art and architecture in public spaces. You can download a PDF guide in English here

The Philharmonie is running summer tours of the building, and you can find out more about the dates for these and the concert programme here.

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