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Etude in blue: textile façade is giant dynamic screen

News | May 1, 2012 | By:

Jean Nouvel’s Copenhagen Concert Hall is a dynamically responsive building, both day and night.

When the DR Koncerthuset (Copenhagen Concert Hall) opened in January 2009, it reconfirmed Jean Nouvel’s powers as a visionary architect. The 26,000m2 concert complex is 45m in height and encloses a series of volumes that include the main 1,800-seat concert hall and three smaller, more flexible performance spaces. It is the home of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

From the exterior, the cubelike DR Koncerthuset (DRK) is a compelling structure that changes under the light of day and night. Most notable is its cobalt blue skin, a Stamisol® FT 381 fabric by Serge Ferrari in a hue that would make Yves Klein weep. Named Ice Blue, the fabric has been stretched over a structure of steel beams, tension cables and a glass facade and functions as a translucent veil revealing the armature and spaces within.

A quality of mystery infuses the building, which has been lauded for its intimate performance spaces. By day, the outlines of the interior performance hall and studios, and people moving about on different levels can be seen through the blue skin. By night, the deep blue textile façade serves as a giant screen for projected video montages. “The façades are diaphanous filters permitting views of the city, the canal and neighboring architecture,” states Nouvel. “At night these façades become screens for projecting images.”

The DRK is a striking new landmark for Denmark’s capital, even more noteworthy because it is located in an undistinguished residential and commercial district being developed at the rim of the old inner city. Because of the nature of its transitional urban site, Nouvel first conceived of the blue screen as a kind of “magic lantern” that would attract other structures. “I tried to think about myself as an architect in the 11th century who had to build a cathedral in a city in Europe, and how the buildings then happened around the cathedral. This was possible because this is probably the largest and most public building here,” says Nouvel.

Nouvel’s design strategy was to create a dialogue with the unremarkable site and its bold design and the Ferrari fabric’s unique qualities allowed it to do so. It evokes a sense of restrained drama as the translucent blue textile merges the building’s interior and exterior worlds. By day, passersby can visually access the interior spaces, albeit opaquely, and by night local residents and visitors become an audience for the projected video montages.

The strong, durable blue skin imparts the DRK with a sense of lightness and luminosity. To create the skin, 16,000 m2 of the fabric were stretched over panels measuring 5m by 15m to 15m by 15m. The membrane is 100% recyclable and has a warranty of 10 years.

Nouvel acknowledges that the DRK building with its lush auditorium and excellent acoustics is a homage to Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie. Moreover, critics discuss it in the same sentence with Frank Gehry’s 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Calif., and Herzog & de Meuron’s still-under-construction Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg, Germany. (At a cost of £360 million the DRK is nearly twice as expensive as Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, which cost £190 million. The huge cost overruns resulted in the unpopular downsizing of DRK’s staff and orchestra posts.) Like the best of buildings, the DRK proves, with its bold Yves Klein blue face, that exceptional design and functional, intimate spaces are not mutually exclusive.

Contributing editor Mason Riddle writes frequently about design and art. Her piece on a rural New Zealand residential shade structure appeared in the Jan/Feb issue.

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