Berlin Philharmonic Hall – truly organic architecture?

by Landanxi Luo

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There is a tent-like, very extraordinary architecture with a yellow and orange color on its cover. This building is located in the heart of Berlin, and it is a crucial representative of Berlin’s cultural industry. It is the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, a part of the Kulturforum, right next to the Potsdamer Platz area. When visitors go past this area, it is very hard to ignore this freakish architecture. Indeed, its shape and color catch eyes immediately. However, without knowing about the history and introduction of Berlin’s cultural development, no one would know that this modern and unusual building is designed for one of the world’s best symphony orchestras. And of course, unless you are an architecture fan, people only focus on this building because of the world renowned Berliner Philharmoniker.

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Berlin Philharmonic Hall was designed by one of the most well-known German architects Hans Scharoun, and it was his first design of a cultural institution. We know Hans Scharoun because of his notion of organic architecture, and as expected, this philharmonic hall also follows the concept of a balance between the natural environment around and the architecture itself.

But, does it really keep a harmonic balance between the architecture and the nature for the audience? I am not talking about those organic architecture fans or very professional architects, but only those normal audiences. When Hans Scharoun designed this hall he tried to maintain an earthy balance of landscape and color, because this architecture is located near the Tiergarten, which is a forest-like park in the middle of the city center. However, his attempt is not that successful because this building not really fits into the area. Moreover, all the architectures and environment designs in Kulturforum are not harmonic in one style. The postwar-modern style seems in disorder, too much concepts and forms. It doesn’t show an intimate sense with the river, the forest or the nearby commercial area of Potsdamer Platz – just like a gardener with bad taste, who puts all the precious flowers together in a garden without considering their beautiful features.

At the same time, no one can deny that Scharouns pioneering interior design of Berlin Philharmonic Hall is innovative and functional. The seats are settled on a slope and all of them are oriented towards the center of the stage, the performing platform, like in a small arena. This so-called vineyard-style seating arrangement, very simple and effective, was later largely applied by modern orchestral houses, such as the Sydney Opera House. About 90 percent of the seating is in front of the orchestra stage, and the distances between the seats and the main stage are no longer than 35 meters, so that the audience can enjoy the best view and sound effect from the stage. The most famous conductor in Berliner Philhamoniker’s history, Herbert von Karajan, has highly evaluated this hall. He thought that none of the music halls he was familiar with had the ideal seating arrangement like this one. But Scharoun’s interior design considered not only the visual effect, but also the acoustics. The vineyard terraces style seating lets the audience observe and listen to the music easier in order to achieve a development of experience. Obviously, the acoustics are overwhelming for the listener who comes for the first time. There is a huge sound reflector settled over the orchestra stage, and some smaller reflectors are distributed all over the hall, so that the sound can transmit evenly. However, there is also some criticism about the acoustics. The berlin-based music critic Werner Oehlmann stated that all the miracle of sound in this music hall is only based on physics and science, so it is hard to evaluate the more emotional music itself. Well, to be honest, this is kind of like finding quarrel in a straw. But the interesting thing is, although Karajan praised Scharoun’s idea very much, he didn’t use the Philharmonic hall to record CDs until Scharoun’s assistant improved the acoustics here.

 

The Berlin Philharmonic Hall has indeed very practical acoustics and interior design, but is it really an organic architecture that also harmonizes with its surroundings? Does this mechanical-yellow color really represent the soil of the city garden? And does this asymmetrical building really fit into the area? Visitors will need to answer these questions on their own when visiting this messy city planning at the Kulturforum.

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