It is often a tough toss-up between practicality and beauty when designing a new project, but when both come together, as in the case of the Philharmonic Building in Luxembourg, the result can be astonishing. Angelina Rafii invites you on a tour…

Emerging from among the European Union Institution buildings, like a hidden pearl in an oyster shell, the Philharmonic Building truly stands out through its unique architecture. Three rows of 827 thin white columns surround the entire facade of the structure and set the stage for a dance between light and shadows.

Christian de Portzamparc, the building’s renowned architect, says, ‘I had the idea of a filter. I thought that there was a need to get out of the office building backdrop of the Philharmonic and forget it once you are inside. Nevertheless, I did not want to create an opaque structure that is cut off from the rest of the building, or on the other hand, a transparent glass universe that makes you feel like you are standing outside. So initially I thought of creating a ring of trees around the building that would serve as a filter. Later I transposed that idea as being part of the building itself, through the use of columns.’ According to Portzamparc, the curved shape is not based on a modern idea of creation, but is rather a direct response to the environment it is embedded in, as well as to the central theme of music. As such, it is not confronted by any space limitations.

The wraparound foyer space takes the visitor on a circular journey. It puts the listener in a place where the imagination runs free.

Portzamparc took this notion one step further when he designed the concert halls. He did not want the audience to feel locked in. The idea was to create balcony towers that looked like building exteriors, giving the impression that one is between two structures, as opposed to being inside a confined space. Also, the elliptical shape of the room defies one’s perception as to its actual size and provides a platform for a harmonious exchange between sight and sound.

The architect comments: ‘The emotion of music is the discovery and gradual entry into a different world – a world that reveals itself in time. I understand space too as a phenomenon that we perceive in the time of our movement, with its expectations, its surprises, its connections.

Sound and light come to fill and reveal this marvelous void that opens between the solidity of constructed shapes. Space and music reveal themselves reciprocally.

In practical terms, the Philharmonic hosts three auditoriums on a 20 000 m² space, with the main auditorium at its centre, seating 1 500 people. This aims to host symphony concerts. Across from it, the chamber music room is set in a shell-like form and offers 300 seats. The third hall is dedicated to promoting new talent. The Philharmonic Orchestra itself, which resides in these premises, was formed in 1933 by Radio Luxembourg. In 1996 it became the national orchestra of the country and began its touring career. Over seven decades it has completed 20 recordings that have been awarded more than 70 international prizes. In 1997 plans arose to build a home for this national treasure. Some of the world’s leading architects competed for the project – among them Zaha Hadid, whose model could be seen at the Guggenheim in New York until recently. But it was Christian de Portzamparc, laureate of the Pritzker Prize in 1994, who convinced the jury. Eight years later the monument to music officially opened its doors.

Incidentally, the position of the Philharmonic at the heart of the EU Institution buildings, in the ‘Place de l’Europe,’ is no coincidence. Beyond representing an architectural landmark in Luxembourg, it is meant to be regarded as a symbol of cultural excellence in Europe. It may sound a tad political, but as some would argue, sometimes the means justify the end, and in this case, the end was definitely worth it.

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