A happy synthesis of space and music

The foyer of the Philharmonie Berlin

“In the foyer I was amazed, excited, we went up and down stairs, fascinated by the change of vistas ...”, wrote the author Max Frisch to architect Hans Scharoun one year after the opening of the building (1963) adding, “It has seldom happened to me that a work of contemporary architecture has delighted me as much as the Philharmonie in Berlin, which you have created”. Labyrinthine, confusing and at the same time generous, spacious and bright – that is how the foyer of the Philharmonie Berlin appears.

Like on a ship

The foyer of the Philharmonie Berlin, where this year’s Europakonzert will take place on 1 May, has a character all of its own. This is mainly due to the asynchronously rhythmic staircases, the bridge-like galleries with filigree railings and the balcony-like stair heads that give visitors the feeling of being on a cruise ship. This maritime association is no coincidence: Hans Scharoun, who was born in Bremen and grew up in Bremerhaven, was fascinated by ships from childhood and also drew inspiration from them when designing the Philharmonie. Its lively spatial design with many different levels, which not only allow concert guests delightful views into, out of and through the foyer, but also provide space for different instrumental groups and ensembles, has had a decisive influence on the programming of the Europakonzert – with works by Blacher, Ives, Mozart, Penderecki, Tchaikovsky and Adams.


Elegance with light

The interaction of music and architecture is expressed in several ways in the foyer: first of all, there are the four coloured glass walls designed by Alexander Camaro with dynamic colour gradients made of round, industrially manufactured glass blocks. Each glass block is unique.  The most striking wall is the one in the north foyer, described as a “colour decrescendo”, which fades from intense red to grey-white tones to translucent glass. The other three alternate between grey-pink, blue-green and brown-gold. The special attraction of this installation lies in the surprising ways they radiate colour, which result from the change and the intensity of the incidence of light. Hans Scharoun, who had wanted these colourful accents and commissioned his friend Camaro to design them, had in mind the idea of “breaking through walls, making heavy things light, creating sources of light and thereby increasing the festive impression”. This is precisely the effect: similar to the instrumentation of a large orchestra, these islands of colour are woven into the ensemble of the foyer landscape and contribute not insignificantly to the meditative, pleasantly light and joyful atmosphere of the whole.

Did you know?

At first glance, the 110 spherical lamps in the foyer look like they come from a certain Swedish furniture manufacturer. Far from it! They were designed by Günter Ssymmank and are each composed of 72 pentagonal pieces made of polyamide.

These polyamide parts refer to the pentagonal shape, from which Scharoun developed the entire architecture of the Berlin Philharmonie. This form is also included in the logo of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The art of the fugue

The sculpture “Auftakt 63” by Bernhard Heiliger in front of the staircases also refers to music: although entirely abstract in conception, its filigree structure gives the impression of a conductor – the process of leading and distributing the streams of audience members into the auditorium. Is the audience aware that they are walking through Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art of Fugue on their way into the concert hall? When designing the floor, the sculptor Erich F. Reuter used the work of Johann Sebastian Bach as a source of inspiration: “B-A-C-H at the entrance, where these points lie – wonderful stonemasonry. A passacaglia where the staircase rises, and the art of the fugue, i.e. the mirror fugue, further to the right. A theme, especially when there is such a confusingly large area in front of us, almost as big as a football field”. Originally, the entire floor was to be covered with colourful glass mosaic tesserae, but this could not be realised for budgetary reasons. So the foyer got its distinctive floor of grey natural stone from which the colourful, Bach-inspired glass mosaic surfaces shine out like precious gems. When Scharoun saw Reuter’s work in its entirety for the first time one day before the opening of the Philharmonie, he humorously and very contentedly said to the artist: “You’re lucky you got so little money!”


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