The Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall and the Algorithm

In a recent post we showcased the beautiful new concert hall in Hamburg, the stunning Elbphilharmonie. An interesting detail about the building is that as an architectural gem it incorporated an innovative dimension in its design, the use of an algorithm to create part of the surface of its acoustic panels.

See our previous post: Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall – The Shining Edge of the City

There is an almost endless list of architectural features in the new Elbphilharmonie, from the curved facades, the shell of glass panels, to the intricate interconnecting stairways. However, its most interesting feature is the central auditorium, a gleaming ivory cave built from 10,000 unique acoustic panels that line the ceiling, walls, and balustrades. The room looks almost organic, like a rippling, monochromatic coral reef.

The auditorium—the largest of three concert halls in the Elbphilharmonie—is a product of parametric design, a process by which designers use algorithms to develop an object’s form. Algorithms have helped to design many things, however, in the case of the Elbphilharmonie, Herzog and De Meuron (the architects), used algorithms to generate a unique shape for each of the 10,000 gypsum fibre acoustic panels that line the auditorium’s walls like the interlocking pieces of a giant puzzle.

Images are © of Designboom and Johannes Arlt

The 10,000 panels feature one million “cells”, or small depressions in the gypsum. The shapes are of uneven size, ranging from 4 to 16 cm across, and are designed to disperse and shape sound within the auditorium.

As Benjamin Koren (founder of One to One, the studio that worked with Herzog and De Meuron to design and fabricate the panels) explains it,

when sound waves hit a panel, the uneven surface either absorbs or scatters them. No two panels absorb or scatter sound waves alike, but together they create a balanced reverberation across the entire auditorium.

The requirements for the panels were developed by Herzog and De Meuron, working with famed acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. Using these requirements as parameters, Koren developed an algorithm that produced 10,000 panels, each with a unique shape and pattern, mapped to clear aesthetic and acoustic specifications.

“That’s the power of parametric design,” he says. “Once all of that is in place, I hit play and it creates a million cells, all different and all based on these parameters. I have 100 percent control over setting up the algorithm, and then I have no more control.”

It is a unique kind of designer control which allows for the emergence of intricate and unforeseen beauty.

Visit the Elbphilharmonie website, here.

Photo credit: Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from Wired.

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