Cultural marks

by Yule Heibel on January 12, 2007

On Jan.8, J.C. Scott, a local designer who has “an upcoming role promoting arts and culture through Tourism Victoria,” mused in the local paper about how Victoria might go about being “in search of our cultural mark” (that was the title of the article). He used the article to think out loud about how we don’t have any signature cultural landmarks in town, buildings that testify to the fact that Victoria is more than just “olde England” heritage or overpowering nature, and that it has a thriving art scene. He referenced several other cities, and asked his readers to stretch their imaginations: land in Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, visit Santiago Calatrava’s building in Valencia, think about what an I.M. Pei structure could add to our tourist centre, or a Tadao Ando museum further north, perhaps.

Well, I have another addition to this mental wish-list.


This is the new Philharmonic Hall on the Elbe (**)in Hamburg. It’s like a pirate ship sailing into the city, isn’t it? And why not? It’s a concert hall in what used to be a warehouse (capitalist storage space to you, comrade!), with the sails of capital (i.e., luxury condo & hotel development) powering the whole thing from above, in the guise of a post-modern signature structure that reminds one of a galleon unfurled. Culture and capital, in unabashed union. [(**)= Note: The link takes you to an over-engineered start page for a flash site, but it’s actually worth the visit: best flash animations I’ve seen, very smooth, absolutely excellent.]

This project is part of a larger urban revitalisation known as HafenCity Hamburg. The pages accessible from this link are positively crowing over this achievement, and admittedly, the project looks unrelentingly ambitious. It’s especially intriguing to notice how the planners are triumphantly crowing over the private-public partnerships they managed to engender, which got some of these developments off the ground. The concert hall, for example, is possible because that airy structure resembling a pirate ship’s sails plunked on the dour solidity of a hull (in this case, ex-warehouse) is a private condo & hotel development, strictly luxury, of course. The dour bits at the bottom, meanwhile, have been alchemically transformed (by all that money, including the profits from the condos) into an orchestral hall of culture.

Hummel, hummel!

Mors, mors…!

translation (sort of)

n.b.: if you land on the German-language versions of the architecture/ Hamburg sites, no fear: there’s a link for the English-language version, too.


maria January 12, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Very Wagnerian, with a touch of Sartre…. The building in the picture, that is! Okay, throw in a dash of Heidegger for that highlight between the “dour” lower parts and the majestic “sails” and lights.

Rob Randall January 13, 2007 at 1:19 am

Kudos to Scott for attempting to rouse us from our cultural slumber with a bold architectural statement.

A technical query: The Inner Harbour is touted as the most logical spot for such a venue yet it is a working harbour, with floatplanes and train and ship horns. Is it possible to build a functional arts venue there that is acoustically soundproof?

yulelog January 13, 2007 at 2:15 am

Hmm, Maria: architecture as text? 😉

Rob, interesting question. The floatplanes to Seattle come in at the foot of Courtney; those to Vancouver at the foot of Yates/ Johnson; the Coho near the Legislature — I don’t think that traffic necessarily precludes putting a structure that provides a cultural venue there, but looking at a map, I wonder if the better site on the harbour for such a building wouldn’t be the Upper Harbour, specifically across from Pt.Hope Shipyards or a bit slightly north of that, West of Store St. where Chatham/ Discovery/ Pembroke descend (i.e., closer to Rock Bay). The Opera, btw, has already moved its new production facility to the vicinity of that neighbourhood (on Pembroke), I think (I’m willing to be corrected on that). What I like about the idea of taking a cultural venue out of the tourist heartland is (1) it would expand the area that is of interest both to tourists and to locals; and (2) it would actually be an opportunity to reflect back on the industrial history of that area (which is what’s being done in so many of these rejuvenations, where former “rust zones” are getting burnished and reborn as “culture zones.” Yeah, in a sense it erases the industrial history in some ways, but even though Victoria is getting that fat federal contract to build submarines, it’s also the case that the Upper Harbour will not return to some of its previous industrial and marine highlights (like massive sealing, for example).  So why not let some culture vultures roost there?

Rob Randall January 13, 2007 at 2:37 am

I like the idea of situating it on the other side of the Johnson St. bridge–perhaps on the former proposed site of the arena below Capitol Iron or thereabouts. An arts building around there reminds me of the area surrounding the Bilbao Guggenheim.

Now all we have to do is pay for it. Maybe we can skim a little from the Fed’s billion dollar submarine garage.

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