A Great and Spacious Building Nears Completion in Hamburg

Elbe Philharmonic Hall, Hamburg, Germany

Several memorable arch-villains show up in the Book of Mormon. The first we encounter is that famous rival of the tree of life, the Great and Spacious Building. When it plays again its role in our Sunday schools this month, many of us will hear someone bring up Hugh Nibley’s Babylonian skyscrapers. However Ezra Taft Benson taught that the Book of Mormon is for our day, and in 2012 our day is the opening of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany.

Cross section

And I beheld a rod or iron, and it extended along the bank of the river.

Hamburg has been redeveloping part of its port on the Elbe as a new quarter called HafenCity.

And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building.

“In the middle of the flow of the river Elbe on approx. 1,700 reinforced concrete piles a building complex is emerging, which, in addition to three concert halls, will encompass a hotel, 45 private apartments and the publicly accessible Plaza.” “The centerpiece of the Elbphilharmonie is also one of the most exciting construction challenges in Europe at the moment: A world-class concert hall at a height of 50 meters with seating for 2,150.”

And it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedlingly fine.

“At a height of 37 meters visitors will be treated to a unique 360° panoramic view of the city. Measuring some 4.000 square meters the Plaza will be almost as big as the one in front of the City Town Hall and will be an ideal place for Hamburg’s citizens and tourists, concert-goers and hotel guests to stroll.”


Last summer a Latter-day Saint from Hamburg happened to visit my ward where the missionary who had taught him decades ago lives. I asked him if the saints in Hamburg had noticed the suitability of Elbphilharmonie to play the role of Great and Spacious. He said he’d never heard such a comparison; what people mostly talk about is the nearly half billion Euro price tag. Among the many unusual, striking aspects of the project is the choice to preserve the historical Kaispeicher dock warehouse for the structure’s lower levels. As one cynic noted a year and a half ago, “The great and spacious building is decadent art built on commerce? Nibley’s spirit must feel vindicated.” Or as my ward’s Sunday school president said when I ran it by him, a concert hall that looks like something out of a Batman movie.

If you think this is what a classroom near you could use, high-resolution files of the above renderings by Herzog & de Meuron are available that can be printed on 11″x17″ cardstock at a local shop such as Staples for two dollars. (link)


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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

14 thoughts on “A Great and Spacious Building Nears Completion in Hamburg

  1. Where will the mocking take place? I have to admit that the building is pretty cool-looking.

  2. It seems to me that one need go no further than City Creek to find great and spacious. It’s a lot closer to home than Germany, friends.

  3. Oh that is much too literal. I think the spacious building is the internet. The rivver is obviously the fiberoptic lines that transmit filthiness into our homes as well as the spacious building. But really.. why hate on a concert hall? I realize its a huge waste of money but its at least supposedly for music at its core… In reality, looking for a real spacious building tends to ignore the message of the angel that we all have a bit of the pride of the world surrounded by waters of filthiness in our soul that we need to escape and overcome by grasping the iron rod of truth leading us to the love of the atonement.

  4. You are kidding, I hope you are only kidding. Me thinks the only sinful matter here is the price tag of the building.

  5. That is the weirdest looking building I’ve ever seen. I think the comparison can be made, but I think you can make that same comparison about the casino down the road from my town as well.

  6. I do not dislike the new Elbe Philharmonic Hall; I am considering how well it can portray the Great and Spacious Building, like any actor in a role. I think it should be hard for a Latter-day Saint to look at the rendering up top—misty, dark, brooding, and structurally apt—and not think of Lehi’s dream. The tree of life is artistically rendered over and over and over, but we get a kick out of a good villain too.

  7. Joyce Anderson, does the casino down the road stand as it were in the air, high above the earth?

    Geoff, art venues provide wonderful opportunities for mocking. Artists mocking society, critics mocking artists, editors mocking critics. Likely, though, the throng on that plaza in the air will be too entranced by the beauty of the setting to mock anyone reaching incomparably delicious fruit.

  8. Thanks for your comment # 6. Absent that comment, my only response to this post was going to be “So I take it you don’t like the new Philharmonic Hall.” Based on what I’ve seen here, I love it. Kudos to the Germans for pressing forward with innovative design that will surely draw plenty of revenue and enhance the City’s (and tourists’) experiences culturally.

  9. chris, fiber optic lines as the river? Are you mocking us from that great and cyber-spacious Internet? 😉

    Actually, it is an interesting way to look at it. There is a lot of hubris and mocking that goes on in cyberspace.

  10. John, from the highway it does….at least it’s always what I had envisioned the Great and Spacious Building to look like as a kid…then they built it. Kinda weird.

  11. Joyce,
    Now to be fair the Salt Lake conference center far more resembles the artistic renders of the spacious buildings that I’m familiar with. Right down to the terraces for people to gather & walk on, “hanging gardens”, and if memory serves there is even a small faux river they put running along side it.

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