Antwerp’s concert hall receives crowning glory

Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, Antwerp Belgium

Queen Elisabeth Hall © Hans Morren

Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp is now fully complete, following the complex installation of an acoustically transparent bronze mesh across the ceiling – the finishing touch to a concert hall that could now be said to rival some of the best in the world.

Shortlisted for ‘Best Cultural Completed Building’ at the 2017 World Architecture Festival this month, architects SimpsonHaugh, with the support of American acousitician Kirkegaard Associates, have transformed the auditorium and invigorated one of the city’s most important cultural landmarks.

Queen Elisabeth Hall stands at the heart of the Elisabeth Centre, an historic cultural complex close to Central Station that includes conference facilities and the famous Antwerp ZOO. The new Hall replaces an inadequate 1950s concert venue, creating a beautiful auditorium of the highest comfort levels and acoustic quality, as well as forging a more harmonious relationship with the adjoining historic buildings of the zoo.

The bronze mesh is acoustically transparent and, rather than reflecting it, sound energy is allowed to pass through to reach the hall’s walls, engaging with the full volume of the space without ‘shadows’. Used on the ceiling and balconies, the mesh forms a cladding for the reflectors, which can be adjusted to fine-tune the room’s acoustics, and is complemented by retractable fabric banners that can be deployed to vary the reverberation time in the room.

Serving as a shimmering backdrop to the orchestra, the visual transparency of the bronze mesh varies according to the architectural lighting, contributing to the unique experience of being in one of the world’s most impressive concert halls.

Outside the Hall, the foyers are spaces for movement and interaction, and they have been designed to complement the hall’s aesthetics with natural finishes such as timber, travertine and bronze.

At ground floor, the Looszaal is a new public space that connects the site’s different cultural activities, including the zoo and a conference centre, with the city. The historic significance of the site is reinforced by the restoration of a wall that bounded the original nineteenth-century hall, featuring art-nouveau murals that had been obscured by later interventions.

Bronze mesh detailing © Jesse Willems

The Queen Elisabeth concert hall provides a high-profile home for the resident Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, and is now attracting many visiting international orchestras, including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Rotterdam’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

Joost Maegerman, General Manager at the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra said: “This new concert hall is a great gift. We are grateful to the architect, who has been incredibly considerate for the needs of a contemporary concert audience, and especially for the needs of a symphonic orchestra.

“Its wonderful acoustics and (in Belgium) unparallelled facilities for an orchestra in residence provide a unique environment for the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra to evolve further and to continue to delight and move our audience.”

Anthony ‘Shimby’ McCreery, collaborating consultant at Kirkegaard associates said: “The Queen Elisabeth Hall is the result of many years of close multi-disciplinary collaboration between Kirkegaard Associates and SimpsonHaugh.

“While the overall boundaries of the hall were defined by its location at the heart of the existing historic buildings, the design team explored various configurations for the new room within this envelope. Kirkegaard employed a variety of techniques including physical and computer modelling to optimize and refine the room geometry and finishes.

“The mesh finishes are acoustically transparent and therefore optimize the volume of the space while meeting the practical need for ceilings and balcony fronts.”

Stuart Mills, Partner at SimpsonHaugh said:  “It is a privilege to have completed a scheme of such importance to the cultural identity of Antwerp and the international reputation of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra”.

Queen Elisabeth Hall © Karen Fuchs