Back in January, Hamburg, Germany’s Elbphilharmonie re-opened its doors to the public, marking the end of a ten-year-long remodeling process and making it one of the most advanced concert complexes in the world. Elbphilharmonie’s remodel ended up costing ten times more than originally planned, ringing in at a whopping $843 million USD, though the price tag and long construction process were not all for naught. Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron designed the largest of the three concert halls within the complex, the auditorium, using special algorithms to ensure a more perfectly balanced sound.
The auditorium’s walls are lined with 10,000 specially designed, gypsum fiber acoustic panels that Herzog and de Meuron designed together with Benjamin Koren, founder of One to One, and famed acoustician, Yashuhisa Toyota. Each of these panels has a unique shape generated by a special algorithm, and together, the panels lock together to shape how sounds are heard within the 2,150-seat auditorium based off an optimal sound map designed by Toyota. Each panel is texturized with “cells”—small divots ranging from four to sixteen centimeters across that either absorb or scatter sound waves when hit. No two panels are alike, meaning each’s effect on sound waves is similarly unique. Now, all 10,000 panels have been individually placed to create a balanced reverberation within the concert hall.
When designing the sound map of the venue, Toyota considered the venue as a whole. As Wired noted, “Based on the room’s geometry, Toyota figured certain panels, like the ones lining the back wall of the auditorium, would need deeper, bigger grooves to absorb echoes. While other areas, like the ceiling surfaces behind the reflector and the top parts of the balustrades, would require shallower cells.”
From there, the architects added their own parameters to each acoustic panel—for example, Herzog and de Meuron wanted to ensure that the panels are beautiful to look at, appear consistent, and consider the needs of audience members (e.g., any panel that can be touched by an attendee has softer divets). Using Toyota’s sound map and Herzog and de Meuron’s specifications, Koren used parametric design to create an algorithm that automatically designed the 10,000 panels and their placement within the hall. As he noted, “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.”
Check out the video below to see what the completed auditorium within the Elbphilharmonie looks like.