DBC Concert Hall

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s concert hall Koncerthuset was a project in a league of its own. A distinctive and exciting building designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. With the architect influencing every detail, Koncerthuset is an architectural achievement that fully deserved its nomination for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award 2011.

Troldtekt DBC Concert Hall
Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen, architect

No two Nouvel buildings are alike. Each project produces new and different results. This was also true of DR Koncerthuset in the Ørestad district of Copenhagen. Jean Nouvel started with the site, which at the time consisted of flat fields with dispersed development. The large concert hall with seating for an audience of 1,800 was conceived as a meteor which has landed, bringing life to the district. And it has, even though it is concealed within a cube clad in a blue screen. In the evening, when performances are being staged, images are projected onto this screen, reflecting what is happening within. By day, the amorphous shape of the concert hall is discernible behind the screen, which is pulled aside, for example where the administrative offices are placed.

Architecture with contrasts

The concert hall is one of the four segments which make up DR City (DR Byen), the new headquarters of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. The four independent buildings are connected by a covered street (Indre Gade), which strengthens communication between the DR departments as well as providing an obvious and inviting place to meet for DR employees. The competition for the unified plan was won in 2000 by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects. The concert hall was the building to be completed last, in 2009. It has been a success from the moment it was inaugurated, and has proven suitable for a wide range of events. What makes Jean Nouvel’s concert hall so special is the richness of the contrasts. It is robust yet refined, flexible yet precise. It does not resemble typical Scandinavian architecture, yet considerable emphasis has been placed on the choice of materials and the overall experience in the individual rooms.

Acoustics paramount

DR Koncerthuset houses four studios, which are all very different, depending on the purposes for which they were built. Consequently, the acoustics in each room are also different. Jean Nouvel decided to make the acoustics a source of identity for the architecture. Studio 2 is a rehearsal room with veneer-clad walls hung with portraits, primarily of musicians. Studio 3 is the smallest with seating for 170 people and is inspired by a piano with black/white acoustic walls. Studio 4 is also unique with red walls, which are divided into sections with panels that can be rotated depending on the music being played and the number of people in the room. Studio 1 is the fabulously beautiful concert hall with an impressive volume of 28,000 cubic metres and space for 1,800 people. Despite its size, the concert hall is very intimate with seating encircling the stage and the golden colours on the wavy walls.

Jean Nouvel took his inspiration for the concert hall from the former Radiohuset building – both the golden shades and the exquisite patina which characterised the interior. Jean Nouvel has designed all the interiors, and has been extremely conscientious in his choice of materials. The studios are beautiful and inspiring thanks to their individuality and distinct design features. The main auditorium boasts outstanding acoustics, which have put Koncerthuset on the world map of large concert halls. The hall’s irregular shape ensures optimum acoustic conditions. The acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, who is known worldwide for his expertise in the field.

Calm chaos

Outside the studios, the acoustics and materials still remain a priority. In large parts of the foyer and the building in general, the walls are concrete with a textured surface called ‘elephant’s skin’. Its irregularity provides a welcome contrast to the large expanses and long corridors. Behind the foyer and stages there are many pedestrian areas which all feature the characteristic traits of the Koncerthuset’s interior design. The floors are made of steel plate, the walls are elephant’s skin concrete and the Troldtekt ceiling panels are neon orange. Moreover, all the installations beneath the ceilings and down the walls have been painted the same neon orange colour. It infuses the interiors with a sense of calm – the acoustics are pleasant despite the hard surfaces, and giving the cable ducts, ventilation pipes etc. the same dazzling colour creates an overall unifying effect.

In the secondary rooms, like the corridors, efforts have been made to ensure an architectural and sensual experience. In part of the administration offices, Troldtekt panels have been used for some of the innermost rooms; again, Jean Nouvel has used the materials in a definite but different way. The architect Lotte Bessard from Jean Nouvel’s drawing office in DR City was involved in choosing materials for the building. French materials have been ‘translated’ to Danish equivalents, with much emphasis on quality and the materials’ environmental properties.

Architectural masterpiece in Copenhagen

Jean Nouvel has not previously designed buildings in Denmark but, with DR Koncerthuset, he has contributed to a prominent architectural attraction in Copenhagen. The French architect is well known for projects such as the Opéra Nouvel in Lyons, the Culture and Congress Centre in Lucerne and the Arab World Institute in Paris. For all projects, he starts by considering factors such as the site and the function of the building, and this has given Koncerthuset a clear sense of identity, with the acoustics and the overall experience enjoying pride of place. The building was nominated for the final of the esteemed Mies van der Rohe Award out of 343 projects.