Implementation of media engineering projects – light, sound, and stage management equipment and custom-built structures in the Elbphilharmonie

The object
The Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) located in the HafenCity quarter in the western part of Hamburg was inaugurated on 11 and 12 January 2017. The modern building created by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Ascan Mergenthaler was erected on top of the shell of the former quayside warehouse A. It houses a large concert hall with 2,100 seats, a smaller, more intimate venue with 550 seats, plus the quay studio for 170 visitors intended to serve educational activities, and other studios. In the Great Concert Hall the stage is in the center with the tiers for the audience arranged in circular terraces around it. The acoustic concept created by the Japanese Yasuhisa Toyota provides for all of the visitors to enjoy the same quality of sound wherever they may be seated.

The architecture of the Elbphilharmonie as a building and that of the Great Concert Hall are presumed to be unique worldwide. 110 meters high, the Elbphilharmonie with its fancy wavy roofline made of glass is already regarded as one of the landmarks of Hamburg. Apart from the two concert halls the new building accommodates 45 condominiums, a four-star-plus hotel with 244 rooms and a number of gastronomic establishments. On the 8th floor between the compact brick base structure and the transparent glass shell there is the Plaza, a viewing platform open to the public. Visitors are transported there via an escalator about 80 meters long called the "Tube". Unusual as its architecture may be - what the Elbphilharmonie is primarily destined for is to give people an unforgettable musical experience with every concert event.

The job
While the planning stage was still in progress twelve years back, the first time Amptown System Company was successful was in winning the tender initiated by HOCHTIEF for the scenic lighting and hence for the lighting jobs as a whole. While construction was proceeding, cooperation between HOCHTIEF and Amptown System Company in the light engineering sector became increasingly productive and efficient as a result of tests and simulations performed and of system solutions for media equipment worked out together. Following an open competition ASC was awarded the contract for the assembly and commissioning of the complete audio/video part involving both the Great Concert Hall and the smaller one referred to as Recital Hall, as well as the quay studios. In accordance with the terms of the order ASC took care of and implemented the following jobs: assembly, connection and commissioning of light, audio and intercom solutions. Moreover the contract included seven cutting-edge stage management consoles with integrated ADUNAS technology as well as special structural provisions for the smart mirror displays. These devices are used to show visitors to the concerts important routing and event program information. The challenge consisted in ensuring a contemporary and sustainable level of the complex technical equipment all through the ten-year construction phase and in bringing together the sometimes diverging interests of architects, operators, and artists.

The solution
Scenic lighting
A steel girder construction combined with huge spring packages supports the Great Concert Hall with the effect that the hall is acoustically isolated from the rest of the building. The arrangement of the seats is vineyard-style meaning that the tiers surrounding the central stage rise steeply like the rows of grapevines in a vineyard. With the distance between the conductor and the audience never exceeding 30 meters, the atmosphere is perceived as intimate. The exceptional wall cladding consists of white plasterboards with a milled groove profile, the so-called White Skin. Along with an oversize reverberator in the middle of the ceiling vault it reflects the sound to every corner of the hall. As far as the lighting is concerned, mature classic lighting components were selected. A circular lighting bridge with high-grade halogen lights made by ETC and Robert Juliat runs behind a series of ceiling cut-outs covered with special glass. The fixtures used are halogen profile spotlights with different field angles in an output range between 0.75 kW and 2 kW. In addition there are 6 lighting stands, also with halogen profile spotlights. 37 LED wash lights manufactured by ETC were installed in the canopy which provide high-intensity warm-white light with a color temperature of 3000K matching the effect of the halogen spotlights. Some 500 light fixtures were mounted in all. 

ASC installed all of the power distributors required for scenic lighting. To these power distributors the ETC dimmer systems, the systems controlling them, and the MA light mixing consoles are connected. Junction boxes from which control signals and power for the spot- and wash lights can be picked off are distributed throughout the house. 

In the smaller hall, wood panels with a milled ripple-like surface provide for perfect sound. Like the Great Hall the smaller one, too, is completely acoustically isolated from the rest of the building. Movable lighting poles carry plug-in terminal strips where control signals and power can be picked off to supply not only the conventional spot- and wash lights but the JB Lighting and Philips Vari-Lite moving lights as well. In the quay studio 1 the lights can be fitted to a permanently mounted aluminium traverse running along the periphery. In the smaller hall, too, the connection slots required to operate the lights are available on a number of junction boxes installed in different places.  

Smart mirror displays
32 smart mirror displays were distributed and installed in the house. They come in three sizes with diameters 90 cm, 140 cm, and 169 cm and are suspended from the walls in a slightly tilted position facing the viewer. The smart mirror displays were manufactured in the Amptown production shop and equipped with a substructure allowing for easy access to the display and to the set-top box on the one hand and for anchoring the structures firmly in the wall on the other. The mirrors consist of round single-pane "Mirona" safety glass with a thickness of 10mm produced by Schott AG. A paint coating was silk-screened on the back side of the glass in the form of a passe-partout which leaves the display surface of the Panasonic TV behind it free. The edges of the glass panes are C-grounded. When the displays are switched off the mirror surfaces constitute a design element, when they are switched on they will show information. Any desired content can be output as text, image and/or sound.

Sound reinforcement and dispersion
In the Great Hall of the Elbphilharmonie, the emphasis was put on bringing out the original and pure sound of instruments and voices in space rather than having a sophisticated sound system installed.
A voice alarm system inside the mushroom-shaped reverberator which is suspended from the ceiling vault consists of 6 CAL64 column array speakers manufactured by Meyer Sound. It is used for speeches and announcements and ensures that the entire hall is covered from a single installation point. The column speakers are adjusted so that owing to the precise beam steering technology vertical and horizontal sound dispersion are equally effective allowing thta a large part can be achieved in the Great Hall.

The idea of general flexibility was the reason why the operators gave preference to a mobile sound system where the smaller Recital Hall and the quay studios were concerned. Accordingly components of the Y and E series produced by d&b audiotechnik were used for the purpose. The events most often staged in the Recital Hall are jazz and chamber music performances. The classic shoebox-shaped design of the room and the curved oak-panelled walls create a warm atmosphere heightening the effect of the music. All instruments are clearly and precisely audible.

To control sound reinforcement in the Great Hall, the Recital Hall and the quay studio, 5 digital mixing consoles manufactured by LAWO were supplied and incorporated into the digital audio infrastructure of the Elbphilharmonie in a joint effort involving the manufacturer and the NDR (North German radio and TV broadcaster).

Stage management equipment
ASC has built an excellent reputation developing customized stage management systems which work successfully in notable venues. Indeed ASC's cooperation with ADUNAS, the Beckhoff architecture inside the consoles, and the fact that the system provides for maximum flexibility allowing for instance for optional software extensions, represented crucial factors when it came to deciding who to charge with the job.

In conformity with the notions the persons responsible in the Elbphilharmonie had in mind, 2 big and 2 small stage management consoles involving the PLC-based ADUNAS media control system were developed for the Great Hall. The following performance features were provided: programs switchable on a Windows PC through external control via ADUNAS, all-pole disconnection of the junction boxes in the house and in the stage areas, control of the devices installed like Audiomatrix, Videomatrix and HD cameras.

The consoles provide the stage manager with all the options needed to be creative and make a success of rehearsals and performances. The intercom system ensures efficient communication everywhere in the house. Musicians can be called on the stage, and light, sound, and other technicians are able to communicate with one another. In addition a partyline with up to 12 participants is available in each of the two halls. The stage manager can control the admission signals and the hall doors. Permanent visual contact with the hall is ensured by several cameras and a digital video interconnection. The consoles even allow for opening the doors to late arrivals and for triggering last minute calls. To import and record audio signals is another feature the consoles provide. For any such actions the components are controlled via a touchscreen computer on which the settings requested by the respective user were programmed in advance. In the Great Hall one big and one small console sit to the right respectively to the left of the stage. While the small console is intended mainly for the rehearsals, the big one is used for the sophisticated activities associated with concert events. There is a big console in the Recital Hall as well intended for performances, the smaller one is used during rehearsals. The quay studios are equipped with a small stage management console.

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  • Elbphilharmonie_Slider-I_01.jpg


    This new Hamburg cultural landmark was inaugurated on 11 and 12 January 2017 in the HafenCity quarter. With its unique dockside location and the synthesis of music and architecture, "Elphi" is a work of art in itself.

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    Numerous luminaires in the ceiling cut-outs of the Great Hall immerse the stage in warm white light. Six extendable column array speakers are installed inside the reverberator suspended from the ceiling vault. The beam steering technology ensures that the speakers cover a large part of the hall. 

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    Differently sized smart mirror displays provided at strategic points output information in visual, sound, or written form. ASC manufactured these special constructions in their own workshop.

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    The Elbphilharmonie uses ASC stage management consoles. ASC cooperating with ADUNAS, the PLC-based media equipment control system, the Beckhoff architecture inside the consoles and the outstanding flexibility of the system offer the stage managers a wide scope of action and superior convenience of operation.

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