Designed by Graz architect Volker Giencke, the Great Amber Concert Hall has been inaugurated on 7 November in Liepaja, Latvia. The first – and most momentous – phase of this multistage project envisioning the construction of a cultural urban district is thus completed. In 2003, Volker Giencke won the international architectural competition for a new cultural centre in this traditional seaport on the Baltic Sea. The construction work started in 2013.
“Great Amber” is a monolithic, cone-shaped, slightly contorted structure with a transparent, amber coloured façade. This façade envelops the irregular folded work of the concrete structure built around the building’s most important architectural element: the grand Concert Hall providing seating for more than 1,000 visitors.
The hall itself is surrounded by the rooms of the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra and the Music School’s instruction and rehearsal rooms, thus producing a favourable blend of space to foster communication between artists, students and teachers. An additional Chamber Hall situated beneath the Concert Hall as well as a Ballet Studio and an Experimental Stage with a foyer, Bar & Music Club on the fifth floor complete the spatial concept.
The Concert Hall can also be adapted for congresses, exhibitions and receptions by elevating the orchestra pit and the stalls. Moreover, “Civita Nova” offers an additional 2,000 m² of space for multifunctional events, thus fully responding to the architect’s idea of “Great Amber” as a venue catering for all kinds of purposes that is freely accessible to the people of Liepaja.
Reaching high above the roof, fourteen mirror-finished reflective tubes flood the Concert Hall with daylight, creating a unique atmosphere inside. Light plays a key role at the façade of “Great Amber”, too. Attached to a delicately interwoven steel construction, its amber-coloured glazing bathes the inside area in soft warm light.
At night, the building turns into a transparent luminous element, making its interior and many different functions visible from the outside. During the day, the building’s external glazing glows in varying surrounding colours and shades, offering truly stunning impressions. Convincing in terms of both architecture and content, this symbolic effect emphasises “Great Amber’s” connection to the city. It is a new landmark of modern Liepaja.
The acoustic concept of Müller-BBM
Volker Giencke also developed the acoustics concept together with Karlheinz Müller / Müller-BBM, Munich; they achieved excellent results, with acoustics based on the principle of an oval, terraced vineyard. The grand Concert Hall has a seating capacity of over 1,000. Its acoustically effective volume is around 11,200 m³. When the hall and the orchestra podium are fully occupied, reverberation time still reaches 1.8 to 2.0 seconds, increasing again towards the lower frequencies, thus lending the necessary warmth to the sound.
Perfect conditions for classical concert performances. With its tiers and balconies, the form of the hall follows the classic terraced vineyard pattern, thus enabling intimate proximity to the artists on the podium while everyone in the auditorium still enjoys the full spatial acoustics, no matter where they sit. Filigree decorative elements on the ceilings and walls effect a diffuse blend of acoustics for well-balanced sound quality without excessive clarity.
The Chamber Music Hall has a seating capacity of 180 and an acoustically effective volume of 1,200 m³, guaranteeing well-balanced and sophisticated sound quality at chamber music performances. Behind large white acoustically transparent wall coverings made of fabric, variable sound absorbent curtains are used to reduce long natural reverberation times in both halls. Together with permanently installed sound reinforcement systems, this type of sound absorption ensures very good speech and consonant intelligibility in both halls.
It is therefore possible to use the concert halls, especially the larger one, for non-musical events such as conferences, lectures and congresses. “It is a wonder, something really special that only happens once in a hundred years”, is how Indulis Kalns, a well-known local architect, has characterised the amazing new building. And he is quite right: it is a wonder – to marvel at, to touch and above all, to listen to.
Location: Liepaja, Latvia
Architect: Volker Giencke
Planning: Volker Giencke & Company, Graz
General planner: Giencke & Company – Latvija PS, Riga
Project management: Petra Friedl
Acoustics: Müller BBM, Karlheinz Müller, Munich/Planegg
Stage technic: Bühnenplanung Walter Kottke Bayreuth (Planning); Waagner Biro Austria Stage Systems AG, Vienna (Execution)
Structural engineer: Johann Birner, Graz
Building technology concept: Altherm Engineering, Hans Haugeneder, Baden/Vienna
Lighting designer: Bartenbach Lichtlabor, Christian Bartenbach, Innsbruck
Landscape planning: Paul Giencke, Berlin
Partner architect: SIA Arhitekta J. Pogas Birojs, Riga
General contractor: SIA Merks, Riga
Steel Constructions: UPTK, Liepaja
Concert Hall Chairs: Riga Chair, Riga
Area: Gross floor area 16,523 m2
Building volume: 82,400 m3
Building height: 30 m
Concert Hall of Liepaja Symphony Orchestra: 1,024 seats
Chamber Hall: 154 seats
Photographs: Indriėis Stūrmanis, Aigars Prūsis, Merks, Courtesy of Volker Giencke
Article by Marco Rinaldi