Queen Elisabeth Hall

Antwerp, Belgium

The new home for Belgium’s acclaimed Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, Queen Elisabeth Hall is a beloved landmark for classical music.

The project involved the restoration of the heritage buildings surrounding the existing hall, with the insertion of a new 1,960 seat concert hall to the centre of the site.

The Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp (Koningin Elisabethzaal), home to the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, has completed a large-scale re-building project, making it one of the finest spaces for music anywhere in the world and reinvigorating one of Antwerp's most important cultural landmarks.

The original 1950s concert hall was very poor acoustically and offered a cheerless visitor experience with confused circulation and little sense of arrival or occasion. The project involved the retention and restoration of the heritage buildings (part of Antwerp Zoo) surrounding the old hall, with the insertion of a new 1,960 seat concert hall in the centre of the site, new accommodation and rehearsal spaces for the orchestra and a new conference centre to the north. The new complex is intrinsically linked with, and managed by, the adjacent Antwerp Zoo, leading locals and staff to affectionately dub the new hall the ‘Room with a Zoo’.

In conjunction with SimpsonHaugh architects and Kirkegaard acoustics, the 'shoebox' configuration of the new hall was developed within a smaller footprint. This allowed a new space to be carved out between the auditorium and the surrounding historic buildings for a soaring new atrium and a series of new foyer levels flooded with daylight from above.

“It’s every symphony orchestra’s dream.”

Joost Maegerman, General Manager, Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra

The brief was also to accommodate a wide range of performance types beyond symphonic music - contemporary and amplified music, semi-staged opera, dance, as well as touring musical theatre shows and conferences.

The chorus seating to the rear of the platform rolls away into storage to provide access to the two large scenery lifts that link to the loading bays at ground floor and basement storage yards.

The Hall itself is primarily for symphonic music: the brief dictated a space of superior acoustics, measurable against some of the world's best and most-loved music rooms. However, the brief was also to accommodate a wide range of other performance types - contemporary and amplified music, semi-staged opera, dance, as well as touring musical theatre shows and conferences, all without compromising the acoustics and the primary function of the hall.

As well as collaborating with the architect and acoustician on the design and layout of the Hall, we advised on the general planning of the building, rehearsal spaces and surrounding conference rooms. Alongside that, we designed the performance systems – seating, stagelighting, audiovisual and stage engineering.

“...a triumph for the city.”

The Architects' Journal

We advised on the general planning of the building, rehearsal spaces and surrounding conference rooms as well as designing the performance systems – seating, stagelighting, audiovisual and stage engineering.

The 'shoebox' configuration of the new hall was developed, in conjunction with SimpsonHaugh architects and Kirkegaard acoustics

In addition to the orchestral riser elevators in the platform, the stalls floor incorporates a front extension elevator under the first few rows of seats.

A technical attic extending over the entire auditorium provides lighting slots, followspot room, a network of rigging beams alongside the machinery for the variable acoustic drapes in the hall below.

Having a resident orchestra, the Hall is in use for orchestral rehearsals for half the year, but as with any modern-day performance building of this scale, it was envisaged that the hall would regularly programme a significant number of non-orchestral evening events after the daytime rehearsals, requiring fast turn-around times to maximise revenue and achieve the best use of the facility. Hidden away above, below and around the platform are the systems that make this possible.

In addition to the orchestral riser elevators in the platform, the stalls floor incorporates a front extension elevator under the first few rows of seats, a large section that can be lowered to create a conventional orchestra pit and a sound mixing cockpit elevator amongst the seating.

The chorus seating to the rear of the platform rolls away into storage to provide access to the two large scenery lifts that link to the loading bays at ground floor and basement storage yards.

Four months after opening, the Hall successfully hosted the European tour of ‘Cats’.

A concept section sketch of the auditorium.

A section drawing of the Queen Elisabeth Hall auditorium.

A plan drawing of the hall.

For orchestral events, the acoustic reflector is suspended above the platform, concealing the flyloft above. When not required, however, the reflector splits into four, rotates and stores vertically in the flyloft, revealing the hoist bars, flown lighting bridges and loudspeaker array hoists in the loft above.

A technical attic extending over the entire auditorium provides lighting slots, followspot room, a network of rigging beams alongside the machinery for the variable acoustic drapes in the hall below. The Hall regularly changes format in less than two hours and presents a varied programme. Four months after opening, the Hall successfully hosted the European tour of ‘Cats’.

Take a tour of Queen Elisabeth Hall

Project Details

Client

Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde Antwerpen

Construction cost

€52.6m

Completed

2017

Awards

2018 RIBA International shortlist
2017 WAF Awards, Culture (Completed Buildings) finalist

Credits

Architect

SimpsonHaugh

Structural engineer

ABT

M&E consultant

Marcq & Roba

Quantity surveyor

Bureau Bouwtechniek

Acoustic engineer

Kirkegaard Associates

Heritage consultant

Callebaut Architecten/Origin

Project manager / CDM co-ordinator

KMDA

Approved building inspector

OCB

Main contractor

THV-Elisabeth

Photography

Jesse Willems

Related

...delivered in a way that fosters such integration with the neighbouring cultural institutions, both visually and spatially, makes it also a space worthy of its unique surroundings.

The Architects' Journal

Press

Paul Franklin

Talk to Paul about Queen Elisabeth Hall.

+44 (0)20 7928 0000

Paul Franklin

Talk to Paul about Queen Elisabeth Hall.

Contact Paul

+44 (0)20 7928 0000