The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is widely considered as one of the best concert halls in the world thanks to its unparalleled acoustics and broad, high-quality programming. The concert hall has a great tradition of performances by legendary artists that have donned the musical industry. 

With activities such as Music educational projects, private events, tours, coaching, and also a café the Concertgebouw conducts more than 900 activities amassing around 700000 visitors per year. Since its foundation, Het Concertgebouw has been a privately funded art institution with a rich tradition of (concert) sponsorship and fundraising.

In the Late parts of the 18th century, in Amsterdam, Music played a role as an additional element, to entertain and animate in the society, with sky-high ambitions, but rather poor quality. Even though there was hardly any scientific knowledge on acoustics and its technicalities at the time, it was widely understood that the need to obtain good acoustics played a massive role in the design process. 

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View of the main entrance of Concertgebouw

Laying groundwork for Music in Amsterdam

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An image of Concertgebouw before the revamp

On 15 September 1881, in Amsterdam, six prominent citizens came together to establish a public company aimed at creating a concert hall. This was in response to a piece of widespread news that denounced the sad state of the capital city’s musical culture. The report which seemed to blame the government of the Netherlands for not having focused on its cultural and musical heritage as compared to other countries abroad also while declaring the ill-fated ‘arts’ are not the government’s responsibility, quickly gathered public attention. 

Reviving an existing concert hall proved unfruitful as The Park Hall theatre in the Plantage, the Felix Meritis building, and Amsterdam’s Crystal Palace were either already demolished, too small, or had notoriously poor acoustics.

Since the Rijksmuseum was being built at the time, by architect Pierre Cuypers, the committee sought out his help to negotiate the purchase of a plot of land near the new museum. The requirement was simple, there was no particular building style to be followed, as long as the structure would fit on the 130 x 55 m plot, in the middle of the Nieuwe-Amstel fields on the near outskirts of the city. 

The financial budget for construction was set at 300,000 guilders and needed to have seating for around 2000 concertgoers. After much discussion, a scaled-down version of, Adolf Leonard (Dolf) van Gendt’s creation was chosen.

Design

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An image of an empty Grote Zaal or Main Hall of the Concertgebouw

Concertgebouw had a similar plan to that of the Leipzig building Musikviertel – Neue Gewandhaus, which was known for its excellent acoustic features. It sportedGrote Zaal which was a rectangular hall 44 x 27, 8 x 17,5 meters in dimension, with rounded corners lined with 2 wide corridors of 7 m, around. A Kleine Zaalwhich was a comparatively smaller hall, cross positioned it behind. The facade was inspired by the ideas of the Dutch Neo-Renaissance style with gilded decorations fixed on top with gilded decorations and golden Apollo’s lyre at the top of the decorative tympanum. 

An unstable Amsterdam soil gave ground for the Concertgebouw which stood on 2186 wooden piles, with layers of mud and sand beneath it. Since it began functioning in the year 1888, the Concertgebouw has heaped praises to its design and brilliant acoustics from audiences. 

Even though the construction of the Concertgebouw was finished towards the end of 1886, due to a lack of confidence on the part of the funders as well as the necessary difficulties with the municipality of Nieuwer-Amstel, the grand opening of the Concertgebouw was only celebrated on Wednesday 11 April 1888. 

In 1893 the horse tram was extended closer to the Concertgebouw, and in 1895 the city Nieuwer Amstel merged with Amsterdam, so the municipal boundaries disappeared giving way to road networks being built and rapid growth of neighborhoods adjacent to the Concertgebouw.

The revamp

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The Concertgebouw interacting with the street

After less than a century since its first concert, In 1983, the damp Amsterdam Earth gave way and started sinking the Concertgebouw, with the walls cracking open several inches. Its revamp saw the rotting wooden pilings get restored by concrete pillars, overseen by, Dutch architect Pi de Bruijn. A modern annex was added to the existing entrance along with a basement to replace the otherwise tight dressing and rehearsal space. Concertgebouw Amsterdam addressed its issues such as the lack of space to service the arriving members of the audience with the new wing. 

As unappealing as it may be, the addition on a side to the Concertgebouw building proves utilitarian intelligence. Also, since drinks were served inside the hall during concerts, the coffee bar space had been rendered useless. The architect Pi de Bruijn proposed an annex to the buildingessentially a promenade covered with glass integrating inside with the rest of the building but on the outside contrasting it. 

Still, the intrusion in the original building was minimal, because of the new wing transparency and relatively small volume. 

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East side with new entrance to the Concertgebouw

Present context

Currently, over the years of development in and around Amsterdam, two primary roads, the Concertgebouwplein and Van Baerlestraat intersect adjacent to the concert hall. Located on the Northwestern part of Amsterdam-Zuid, a borough of Amsterdam, the Concertgebouw and the Rijksmuseum Sit opposite facing each other, separated by Open Gardens and a water body in Museumplein acting as recreation spaces. 

The area includes other museums such as the Van Gogh art museum in an area of the fine-grained urban fabric, where only these public art institutions create chunks of built space but separated by open spill-out spaces.

Concertgebouw now provides music education for primary and secondary school children which is also made available online, to get the feel of a concert and also composing their music. Free transport to and from the concert hall, as well as a tour of the building, is also part of the program. The organizing committee also conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Competitions periodically along with Coaching in the classroom, Family concerts, Digital learning line musing, and also a Course and singing experience.

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Spill out and Recreational spaces adjacent to the Concertgebouw
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The main Organ in the Grote Zaal
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Performance by baritone Roderick Williams

References

Wikipedia. (2021). Concertgebouw. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concertgebouw [Accessed 5 Apr. 2021].

Het Concertgebouw. (n.d.). History. [online] Available at: https://www.concertgebouw.nl/en/history [Accessed 5 Apr. 2021].

www.amsterdam.info. (n.d.). The history of Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. [online] Available at: https://www.amsterdam.info/music/concertgebouw/history/ [Accessed 5 Apr. 2021].

Peutz.nl. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.peutz.nl/sites/peutz.nl/files/publicaties/000117.pdf> [Accessed 6 April 2021].

Author

Darsan Babu, an architect, dreamer and a storyteller who loves to take on challenges and reform perspectives on some days, but sit by the mountain and quote words of Howard Roark on others. Would love to explore all things architecture, educate and shape the Urbanscape soon enough.

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