Richard Meier

How much is a landmark worth? A visit to Herzog & de Meuron's controversial Hamburg concert hall

How much is a landmark worth? A visit to Herzog & de Meuron's controversial Hamburg concert hall

In 2011, as cost estimates for Hamburg’s new waterfront concert hall soared and kept soaring, Barbara Kisseler, the city’s senator for culture, told reporters that “the Elbphilharmonie is very dear to us. In both senses of the word.”

Skipping past the remarkable fact that Hamburg has a position called “senator for culture,” it is fascinating to consider her statement now that the hall, which cost nearly $1 billion, is open to the public — and now that the public has made it one of the most popular new cultural destinations in northern Europe.

As an example of contemporary design and a civic project, the concert hall, designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, is less a...

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