The Philharmonie de Paris concert hall holds a 2,400-seat auditorium, six rehearsal studios and a sizable educational wing. Inherent in its design is that it's “a public gathering place that eschews the sanctified atmosphere of a traditional concert hall.”
Likewise, its location at the Cité de la Musique – in the Parc de la Villette, an area that straddles the upper northeast border of Paris and the suburbs – is a strategic emplacement signaling its welcoming ouverture to all peoples and all cultures from all walks of life.
An artist rendering of the Philharmonie de Paris' main concert hall and its "floating in space" balcony seating — Photo courtesy of Didier Ghislain / Philharmonie de Paris
Its aim is to advance the relationship between music and the general public, as well as to stretch the boundaries of what has heretofore been imagined as a concert format. Practically speaking, a good portion of the tickets – 1,000 of the 2,400 available for each concert – are set aside at reduced prices for students, the elderly, children and others.
The Philharmonie's stated aim to draw in a broad diversity of patrons from the whole of Île de France (the county that surrounds Paris, and of which Paris is a part) is reflected also in the building's façade. In fact, there is no main façade; instead, the building opens in all directions.
The building itself covers an area of approximately 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet), with 2,400 square meters (25,833 square feet) of that being rehearsal space for musicians. The rest is taken up by the vast main concert hall, the foyers, the boutiques, the educational wing and the on-site cafés and restaurants.
The main concert hall even offers adjoining living-working spaces for the resident Orchestre de Paris and guest orchestras. The building itself has a walkable roof, offering spectacular views onto Paris and surrounding environs.
A bird's eye view of the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall, as rendered by an artist — Photo courtesy of Didier Ghislain / Philharmonie de Paris
The seating, designed for exceptional comfort and accented by the long, deep balconies that were also furnished for comfort and ease of accessibility, complement the hall's outstanding acoustical design.
To design this fresh new approach to acoustics, architect Jean Nouvel joined forces with Harold Marshall and also worked in consultation with Yasuhisa Toyota.
Firstly, the auditorium is envisioned as an instrument itself. All of its acoustic surfaces and constituent elements, such as balconies and acoustic reflectors, are not only integrated into the visual design, but as they “float in space,” they contribute to the shared auditory experience as well.
Secondly, the performance hall envelops the audience, both physically and acoustically. Wrapped around the stage, the audience is seated in a configuration that spaces the furthest spectator from the conductor at a maximum 32 meters (105 feet). This is even when the house is at its 2,400-seat capacity!
Furthermore, the balconies, which are detached from the walls and suspended pod-like in space, invite the sensorial experience of being enveloped by the music.
"A number of vertical panels, reflectors and the ceiling have textured acoustic panels that multiply sound reflections and soften the mirror effect of very large or smooth surfaces," describes Nouvel. "The performance hall’s global acoustic volume has a reverberation time that varies between two and 2.3 seconds, creating optimal early and late sound energy and strength.”
The most convenient way to get to the Philharmonie de Paris is by public transport: metro (lines 5 and 7), bus (lines 75, 151 and 684), Noctilien (N13, N41, N45, N140), RER (line E) and tramway (line T3) can all drop you off nearby.
And in the summer, why not go by boat? The Conseil Général de Seine-Saint-Denis organizes river shuttles every summer, and two private companies – Canauxrama and ParisCanal – run river cruises that stop at the Philharmonie de Paris.