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Uppsala Concert Hall, Sweden: Modernist Cube with a Pop Sparkle

Posted by
on August 06, 2019 at 01:21 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

A curious, eye-catching building by any standards, the Uppsala Concert and Congress Hall standing on a corner plot in Uppsala, a historically rich city near Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm, is structurally almost a plain cuboid. With a plan and section that take care of design functionality almost on their own, it seems to idolise modernist reductionism. But it’s flashy countenance aligns with a nearly contrarian ideology, making this landmark of a building, designed by Danish design firm Henning Larsen after winning the design competition hosted by Uppsala Municipal authorities from among 134 entries, a much adored talking point ever since it was built.

Uppsala city has an abundance of history  – cathedrals dating back to the 5th century, a 15th century University - one of Scandinavia’s oldest – still functional, relics from Crusade ships, pieces of Ionic and Gothic architecture and such other gems of well preserved and respected history. It is but obvious that any significant piece of architecture which is added to it today must take cognisance of this historical context in order to make a relevant impression – something a cultural venue like a concert hall certainly cannot afford to miss.

The other point not to be missed is the strategic location of  Uppsala Concert Hall – at the meeting point (or the splitting line as some may look at it) of the old historic city quarters and the more recently developed new city area to the east. Thus located, the venue shoulders the responsibility not just of acknowledging and catering to two visually and culturally different zones of a city, but also of connecting them through itself. Architects Henning Larsen’s design attends to this call rather responsibly and literally.

© Courtesy of internet resources

They have, in their design, used the non-competitive and uncontroversial form of a plain cuboid to house the venue, putting to rest all possibilities of being charged of either emulating or affronting the historical architecture the city is synonymous with. Having chosen this cuboid, they have proceeded to split it, both horizontally and vertically, to fulfil the aim of connectivity.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The vertical cleft divides the building in two unequal parts in a way that it (the slit) accommodates the circulation including stairs, escalators and passages along with common areas on each floor. The cleft is also located such that it connects the old and new parts of the city which flank it on either side through the two entry points it holds at the ground floor level. Thus, it is a slit that unifies not just the building’s parts but the city’s parts as well, facilitating the Uppsala Centre in ably playing its role as a gathering place for the historical and the new parts of the city.

The horizontal cleft in the building is slipped into the 6th level of the 37 m high 7 storey building by means of a completely glazed exterior surrounding a large foyer where people spilling out of the auditorium can linger and enjoy panoramic views of the city spread all around. This slit, in essence, offers the ‘visual’ connect with different parts and aspects of the city of Uppsala.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The façade on all four sides being clad with angular reflective Titanium-composite panels of Alucobond, which cast triangular shadows throughout the surface, lend it a faceted and lustrous grandiose aura, these two mutually perpendicular slits give it a distinct ‘split crystal’ look. The slight skewing of the square plan at one of the upper levels helps enhance this faceted-ness of the exterior surfaces.  The final denouement is quite modernistic in essence, capturing a refined blend of aesthetics and function in a few minimal strokes. Yet, the exterior sparkles as the metaphorical gem of an architectural insertion the building is to this city of rich Nordic history.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

The interiors, too, are no less metaphorical – the centrally and dramatically placed long red escalators playing the proverbial red carpet, ceremoniously leading entering visitors to upper floor foyers of venues. It stretches spectacularly from arrival to level 3 and then continues to the expansive viewing lobby at level 6. The arrival floor at the second level houses an exhibition hall, a café opening on to a terrace and a banquet for 600 guests. Level three contains conference and music halls as also smaller meeting rooms.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

The Grand Hall (Stora Salen), as the main 1,150 seater auditorium is called, is carved into four of the structure’s levels, starting with the stage at level 5 and stretching up to the highest balcony seats at level 8.  Offices, rehearsal rooms, backstage area, stage entrances, box seats and storage also find space on all these levels. The hall’s design highlights include sublime acoustics, achieved by using tilted fibre-concrete elements clad in birch laminates, and technical facilities that support a wide range of performance varieties from large symphony orchestras to modern hip hop and jazz concerts.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet sources

Uppsala Concert and Congress Hall in its split crystal formation upholds its own place in the city as the ideal connect between the old and the new styles in all aspects, be it architecture, culture, music or technology. The fire within this cultural gem can best be visually appreciated at night time when the lights from within the venue shine through the clefts, giving away clues to the throbbing and thriving celebration of culture that is perennially playing therein. 

© Courtesy of internet sources
© Courtesy of internet sources

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