July 9, 2019
In a Swiss Village, Architects Transform a Conference Center Into a Concert Hall
Studio Seilern Architects doubled the size of an underground meeting space, building dramatic glass-lined enclosure for the modern, 663-seat oak-paneled venue.
It’s usually the performers who raise the roof in concert halls, but in the small Swiss Alpine village of Andermatt, it was the architects who did so—19 feet, to be precise.
Inheriting what was originally intended to be a conference venue, the London-based Studio Seilern Architects was tasked with turning it into a concert hall by Egyptian developer Samih Sawiris. With the foundations already in place, Christina Seilern, founder of her eponymous practice, had to think outside the box to create a “proper grown-up concert hall” fit for a 75-piece orchestra.
“This was a whirlwind of a project,” she explains to Metropolis. “We had very little time to do anything else … [the] importance was to make the space feel bigger with views out.”
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Despite the hall’s previously meager height of only 23 feet, Sawiris was initially hesitant to raise ceilings. Convincing him required a trip with the designers to the Frank Gehry–designed Pierre Boulez Saal concert hall in Berlin. The expedition was a success: Pierre Boulez Saal rises to 42 feet—a height now matched by the Andermatt Concert Hall. (As a result of the new volume, which was enabled by new columns and beams, the building’s volume has doubled, allowing it to hold almost half the population of Andermatt at 663 seats).
The concert hall is part of a broader push by Sawiris to turn Andermatt into a year-round tourist destination. The town—once a military garrison—already draws visitors for winter sports. The venue could make it a summer cultural hub, too; it joins a new golf course and a smattering of other developments, mostly hotels and apartments, just outside the village’s center, all of projects resulting from Sawiris’s investments.
For the concert hall, the connection to Sawiris is physical as well: It’s directly linked to the lobby of the adjacent Radisson Blu Hotel, a property also owned by the developer. Though the hotel was necessary for the concert hall to exist in the first place, that proximity is the project’s weakest aspect architecturally. The architects couldn’t change that—the venue’s location was already set—though in an ideal world, the hall would benefit from the nearby mountain vistas. Instead, patrons look out onto a hotel. “It is what it is,” remarks Seilern.
Despite this, the hall’s three glassy exterior walls do well to admit sunlight; the abundant glazing at ground level encourages passers-by to peer in. When coupled with the hall’s oak interior panels, which have been stained with white oil, the hall feels bright and spacious—achieving Seilern’s aim of creating a “peaceful space.” For example, audiences can find “clouds” inside the building in the form of three white Plexiglas sound baffles which dangle from the ceiling. Visible both internally and externally, the acoustic devices double as sculptural elements.
The hall’s seating and performance stage, meanwhile, are two levels below ground. To get there, visitors enter through a glass-cased concert hall at ground level (which also serves as an entrance to the hotel) and descend a spiral staircase. They arrive at at a bar and waiting area, which is also used during intermissions. Here, visitors face a shimmering gold wall that seems to punch through the second mezzanine level. It’s as if the concert hall has exposed a goldmine deep beneath the mountains; to New Yorkers, it will feel like a gilded Salt Shed has been dropped into the building.
This angularity continues stage-side as well. The pale oak panels for the hall’s auditorium exhibit a complex, multifaceted geometry in tune with the acoustic engineering team’s specifications. (Two specialist firms worked on the project: Kahle Acoustics and dUCKS scéno, who previously worked on the Philharmonie De Paris. Seilern also had significant relevant experience in the area, having worked on concert halls including the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia with Rafael Viñoly.)
Thankfully for Sawiris, it has all been worthwhile. On June 16, the delicate swoop of conductor Constantinos Carydis’s arm called the Berliner Philharmoniker into action, inaugurating the hall with two Mozart symphonies that book-ended rousing renditions of Dmitri Shostakovich—a performance that raised the already elevated roof, and the audience from its seats.
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