The House of Music was designed as part of a larger April 2008 master plan, also produced by Coop Himmelb(l)au. The concert hall defines the eastern edge of the Cultural Plaza, which is linked to the city center by a low-rise, mixed use courtyard building and a high-rise hotel tower, and which opens along the promenade down to the fjord. As a complement to the cultural and leisure functions of the Nordkraft building, a former power station that was recently renovated, the House of Music and the urban spaces of the master plan transform the area into a new center for art, music, and education in Aalborg.
Text by Pietro Zampetti
To witness the performance of a Beethoven symphony intensifies the listening experience for acoustic reasons but also, according to architect Wolf D. Prix, CEO of the Vienna-based studio Coop Himmelb(l)lau, for the opportunity to follow the movements of the conductor and musicians playing musical instruments. Making music visible and transferring its dynamism into the construction are the project aims for the House of Music for Aalborg in Denmark.
Planning took place between 2008 and 2010 with completion in 2014. The House of Music is part of a larger operation planned around cultural activities launched in 2003, which entailed a reconfiguration of this portion of urban environment overlooking the fjord.
The House of Music is an ensemble of functional spaces linked to musical culture and related services, arranged around an axis that runs from the waterfront to the main entrance across the promenade. The entrance is flanked symetrically by two satellite volumes, the restaurant and the concert hall. Past the entrance of the foyer, running along this axis we arrive at the elliptical staircase, access to the stalls and the galleries and beyond these, the stage. The concert hall is nestled at the core of the school and training centre in a U-shaped courtyard scheme, this too arranged along the main axis, on which the two gravitational poles of the configuration are aligned: the staircase in the foyer and the stage area.
The sweeping helicoidal staircase is set between the two satellite volumes of the restaurant and the auditorium, intersecting the two axes determined by the public area connecting the lateral and the main entrances, thus becoming a central character within the complex spatial dimensions of the foyer, the vertical succession of rooms and the observation balconies that overlook this panorama. The formal emphasis creates a narrative flow between the various levels, in which the length of the walkways and observation decks is extended while the access ramps that curve around the large inclined pilasters supporting the roof structure visually enhance the experience of plastic vertical movement.
The grand staircase is a characteristic of the building’s typology, built for entertainment and education, which here is adhered to in its precepts, resistent to the liberal irruption of curvilinear, fluid forms. In particular, the foyer is a hybrid space by definition, in which the everyday nature of the town and its external life encounters the extraordinary aspect of its representation within its interior. Today, this indeterminate mixed-use space lends itself to the architecture’s display of formal acrobatics, to amaze the public and emblematically accentuate the building’s identity. In a project submitted for a competition in 2014 for a House of Music in Innsbruck, similar in structure to that for Aalborg, Coop Himmelb(l)au used the opportunity when planning the foyer to cogitate on public space, conceiving a covered plaza that includes a tree and a fountain, to enjoy in whatever the climatic conditions. The theme is also touched upon at Aalborg, where the foyer organises the relationship between the two plazas, its main functions and ancillary services.
At Aalborg, innovation above all lies in the aggregation of functions, in which music for public performance intermingles with educational activities. The stage, the destination point for the visitor, is placed at the heart of the education complex, surrounded by rooms for the artists and the orchestra, so as to create a line of communication between those that study and produce music with those that listen to it. The auditorium’s massive interior, an enormous sound box, finds justification in its curvilineal configuration in precise acoustic requisites. The amorphous openings along the walls, that call to mind the boxes in Italian theatres, the place in which to see and be seen par excellence, enable people to see music being performed from observation points in the education centre. These are positioned along the three arms of the “U”, viewed from the exterior as circular openings of various dimensions, that decorate the external facade like a musical score and play counterpoint to the division of internal spaces, rigorously orthogonal, breaching the correspondence between floor plan and perspective and giving life to ever diverse atmospheres in spaces used for practice and study.
In coherence with the poetics of the Viennese firm, forever committed to experimentation in the linguistic and disciplinary limits of architecture, the theme of composite organisation, distribution and function in the installation of a spatial structure plays on the balance between the implicit stability of the construction and the incessant stream of motion and the succession of notes in the musical melody, the art of rhythm and movement.