copespan1

It’s usually considered an insult to say that an architect designs pretty packages, let alone that he borrows ideas from a dead genius.

But Jean Nouvel should be forgiven for resurrecting old ghosts. His Copenhagen Concert Hall, which opened here on Saturday evening, is a loving tribute to Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie, whose cascading balconies made it one of the most beloved concert halls of the postwar era. And Mr. Nouvel has encased his homage in one of the most gorgeous buildings I have recently seen: a towering bright blue cube enveloped in seductive images.

It’s a powerful example of how to mine historical memory without stifling the creative imagination. And it offers proof, if any more were needed, that we are in the midst of a glorious period in concert hall design. Like Frank Gehry’s 2003 Disney Hall in Los Angeles and Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie, now under construction in Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Nouvel’s new hall demonstrates that an intimate musical experience and boldly imaginative architecture need not be in conflict — they can actually reinforce each other.

The Copenhagen Concert Hall has the ugliest setting of the three. In a new residential and commercial district on the outskirts of the old inner city, it is flanked by boring glass residential and office blocks. Elevated train tracks running to the old city swing right by the building; swaths of undeveloped land with tufts of grass and mounds of dirt extend to the south.

Approached along the main road from the historic city, the hall’s cobalt blue exterior has a temporal, ghostly quality. Its translucent fabric skin is stretched over a structural frame of steel beams and tension cables that resembles scaffolding. During the day you can see figures moving about inside, as well as the vague outline of the performance space, its curved form embedded in a matrix of foyers and offices.

It is in darkness that the building comes fully to life. A montage of video images is projected across the cube’s fabric surface at night, transforming it into an enormous light box. Drifting across the cube’s surfaces, the images range from concert performers and their instruments to fragments of form and color.

This is the intoxicating medium of late-capitalist culture. You can easily imagine boxes of detergent or adult chat-line numbers finding their way into the mix.

Yet what makes this more than an advertising gimmick is the contrast between the disorienting ethereality of the images and the Platonic purity of the cube. For decades architects have strived to create ever more fluid spaces, designing ramped floors and curved walls to meld the inner life of a building with the street life around it. The ideal is a world where boundaries between inside and out vanish. Yet Mr. Nouvel’s box is more self-contained and arguably less naïve: its solid form, bathed in tantalizing images, is in stark opposition to the sterile desolation around it.

More

Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times

Advertisements