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In His Own Words: Luxembourg's New Concert Hall by Christian de Portzamparc

A new home for the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg is one of a number of cultural projects underway as the city prepares itself for its second stint as European Capital of Culture.

November 11, 2004

In 1995, the city of Luxembourg was named European Capital of Culture. It will again wear that mantle in 2007. The Luxembourg government and private industry have taken the title very seriously with a €450 million investment in the cultural infrastructure that has projected the small country (population 448,300) onto the international cultural stage.


There are no fewer than 10 projects either recently completed or underway. Among the most anticipated are the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art, designed by I.M. Pei, due to open in 2006, and the nearby Salle de Concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, scheduled to open in 2005.


The concert hall, new home of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, is sited at the heart of the triangular Place de l’Europe, as part of a new master plan designed by Ricardo Bofill in 1996. In 1997, Portzamparc won an international competition to design the estimated €107.7 million, 20,000-square-meter (@ 215,000sf) hall, which includes: the main auditorium that can expand from 1,226 to 1,506 seats; a 302-seat chamber music hall; and a specialized, 120-seat hall for electro-acoustic music.


In his own words:

Christian de Portzamparc’s vision of Luxembourg’s new Concert Hall


In Luxembourg, on the Kirchberg Plateau, at the center of the Place de l’Europe, the Concert Hall now stands as a rotunda, like a baptistery. It is an autonomous object in the middle of this vast triangle, like a jewel set in a case formed by the surrounding buildings. A foyer-gallery encircles the central kernel of the hall. The facade of this peripheral foyer is a vast filigree of 823 fine columns mathematically organized in curves. Neither opaque nor transparent, the rhythms affirm the outer shape of the hall and offer a wealth of varying views deep into the building, depending on where you stand.


Seen from inside, the play of light is very particular. The observer discovers a continuous dialogue of transparencies. In fact, at the beginning when I visited the site, I thought I might install a forest ring between the interior and the exterior – a symbol of the separation of two different worlds. That of music offers a strong sensory experience, marked by a frontier in the form of an improbable curtain of light. In the inner part of the foyer-gallery, a series of sculptural towers mark the entrances of the hall. A long thin footbridge, winding around the central cluster of towers, allows circulation within the site’s upper levels and gives access to the boxes of the main auditorium.


Inside the concert hall, the virtues of a Shakespearean theatre are combined with the proven acoustics of “shoe-box” concert halls. The freestanding towers with their boxes give an impression of depth that seems to “dilate” the space. The impression is no longer that of a closed hall but of a gathering place amongst tall structures, thronged with people.


In order to give autonomy to each tower, they are set at differing angles, which might seem haphazard, but in fact assures that each listener has good views of the stage and orchestra. Each tower has four floors of boxes with every listener in a front row seat. I wanted the public to populate the walls of the space, surrounding the music.


The volume of the chamber-music hall is very considered: it seems to be sheltered under a coiled leaf or to be part of a cone growing out of the cluster of columns and softly unfolding. The inside of the hall is defined by two reflecting elements, disposed so as to avoid an over concentration of sound, one being concave and the other convex. Another reflector above the orchestra zone completes this acoustic device.


The unusual curving axis of the hall, seeking to unite the orchestra and its public, is clearly marked and maintains the integration between the two.

n      Christian de Portzamparc


Construction Authority: Ministry of Public Works, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

(link to an overview (PDF) of cultural projects)

Concert Hall Management: Public Establishment “Salle de Concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte”


Design Architect: Christian de Portzamparc

Associate Architect: Christian Bauer & Associés

Interior Acoustician: XU Acoustique

Exterior/Environmental Acoustician: AVEL Acoustique

Stage Design: Changement à Vue, Michel Fayet


Reinforced concrete/metal structure: Gehl Jacoby et Associés

Glass façade/Metal columns: Gehl Jacoby et Associés; Setec Tpi

HVAC/sanitary planning: S&E Consult; Setec équipements

Electrical: Felgen & Associés

Technical: Secolux

Set design: Veritas

Aerodynamics: DMI – Force Technology

Health & Safety: Sageri


Paris-based Christian de Portzamparc’s first major work was a water tower in Marne-la-Vallée (1971-1979); to date, he is the only Frenchman to receive the Pritzker Prize (1994), and this year he was awarded the 2004 Grand Prix de l’Urbanisme. His first major work was a water tower in Marne-la-Vallée (1971-1979), and he made an international name for himself in 1984, when he won the competition to design the Cité de la Musique at La Villette (Paris), completed in 1995. Recent projects include: apartment block Nexus World in Fukuoka, Japan; Palais des Congrès extension, Paris; LVMH Tower, New York; and the Law Courts, Grasse en Provence. Current works in progress: the headquarters of publishing group Le Monde, Paris (late 2004); Museum and Library, Rennes, France (1993-2005); Block One in Rem Koolhaas master plan for Almere, The Netherlands (2006); Société Générale tower, La Défense, Paris; and Cidade da Musica, Rio de Janeiro (2003-2007). Portzamparc is also at work on a residential tower in New York and the master plan of Beijing Port Area.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Salle de Concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte elevation

(Fonds d'Urbanisation et d'Aménagement du Plateau de Kirchberg)
Site under construction

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Model: nighttime exterior

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Exterior view

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Main auditorium

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Detail of "tower" boxes

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)
Chamber Music Hall

(Atelier Christian de Portzamparc)

© 2004