HG Merz und rw+
Architectural camouflage with Frank Gehry
This building is a master of camouflage. Hidden discreetly behind the Berlin State Opera two rows back, it matches the opera house with its pared-down, classical exterior. The building of the newly opened Barenboim-Said Akademie is actually a reconstruction by Richard Paulick from the 1950s, despite its rusticated masonry, frieze and parapet. And the outside gives no obvious hint at the fact that inside hides a striking concert hall by Frank Gehry and at least parts of a historic steel construction.
The Barenboim-Said Akademie is an institute of higher learning for young musicians from the Middle East, founded in 2012 by the general music director of the Berlin State Opera, Daniel Barenboim. With the academy, Barenboim wants to raise the work of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he and Palestinian American professor of literature Edward W. Said (who has since passed away) founded to the next level, thanks to funding by the German government and prominent patrons.
Star architect Frank Gehry gifted his design for the oval, wooden-clad concert hall of the academy. The Pierre Boulez Hall was a gift not just to the academy but also to the city of Berlin, another high-calibre venue for the capital.
While Gehry’s hall exudes elegance and expense, the architects from HG Merz prefer to start with the unfinished, almost industrial aesthetics of the stage scenery storeroom when it come to the academy rooms. Exposed installations running under the ceilings and simple drywall structures create a workshop-like character and the orange rubber flooring gives a pop of colour.
Elegant hall, industrial academy
Visitors enter the building through a new main entrance on the southern side. Behind that is the foyer, which stretches to the full height of the building. It is far different from both the classical exterior and the modern concert hall. It can be seen from the large space that the building was originally a satellite of the State Opera: high above in the room looms the steel structure used in earlier days to move and store the stage scenery. A skylight provides natural daylight. Architectural firm HG Merz together with BAL Berlin is responsible for the renovation. Another firm from Berlin, rw+, executed the plans. In addition to the concert hall, the building now houses offices, practice room for students, a library and an auditorium.
The total cost of the renovation was around 32 million euros, of which ten million was financed through donations. The foyer connects to the eastern wing of the Pierre Boulez Hall and the western wing of the academy with its new steps, galleries and vestibules. While Gehry’s hall exudes elegance and expense, the architects from HG Merz prefer to start with the unfinished, almost industrial aesthetics of the stage scenery storeroom when it come to the academy rooms.
Exposed installations running under the ceilings and simple drywall structures create a workshop-like character and the orange rubber flooring gives a pop of colour.
The flush-fitted version of Christoph Mäckler’s FSB 1043 door handle in a stainless steel finish ensures quality even in the details. Despite all of its camouflage, the new academy has nothing to hide.
Photos: Till Schuster