A grand symphony of design

Since its launch in November 2016, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie has come to symbolize the unique relationship between design, technology, culture, and above all, limitless ambition. The arched escalator built here is testament to that.

Text: Ronak Kotecha

Hamburg is a city which celebrates art, music and the finer things in life. A great example of a structure that symbolizes the city’s spirit is The Elbphilharmonie. From the outside, Elphi (as the locals affectionately call it) is a brick-and-glass high rise that looks like a swanky ocean liner docked in the city’s harbor. Nestled inside this 110-meter-high, 26-story mega structure, is one of world’s top ten concert halls, mixed use apartments, and even a five-star hotel.

The building has been designed to give an acoustic experience like no other, helping visitors revel in an aural extravaganza. A journey that starts with an elaborate entry into the auditorium via a unique 80-meter-long arched escalator.

The two-and-a-half-minute ride on this moving work of art sets the pace, slowly building up anticipation, as the passengers cannot see the other end thanks to the arch. “The escalator is an innovation in design and technology that has never been built so far,” declares Dr. Heiner Zeiger, project manager – Escalator R&D at KONE Germany, who was behind its creation.

A symphony of design and architecture


As such, the design and installation of the arched escalator was an epic task. The first task was to make the escalator look visually appealing, befitting a structure as elegant as the Elbphilharmonie itself.

The KONE team used glass to give a mirrored effect, while stainless steel cladding and colors were used to mimic the atmosphere of the concert hall.

But that was just the outside. The inside presented an even greater challenge to the team consisting of Dr. Zeiger, mechanical designers Winfried Lanzki and Alfred Thiel as well as electrical designers Andreas Tautz and Rolf Carsten.

“First, we had to understand the loads and forces, the reactions not only between the escalator and the building design but with the concert hall itself,” explains Dr. Zeiger. In doing this, they had to ensure that the noise from the escalator was in balance with the Elbphilharmonie concert hall’s acoustics

Innovative and out-of-the-box thinking


The opening week of the Elbphilharmonie saw over 30,000 people visit the building, and depending on the season, these numbers would still range from 14,000 to 20,000. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure borne by a machine that runs almost non-stop. The team had to ensure that the equipment was of the highest quality, to handle the sheer capacities that the arched escalator would have to endure.

That’s not all. Technologically, the biggest challenge was to distribute power to the arched escalator evenly and consistently, a task that, says Dr. Zeiger, involved a lot of out-of-the- box thinking.

“To achieve this, we used multiple sectional drives through a modular drive system operating the step band of the escalator with specially designed sprockets.”

All this planning and work finally came together to make the arched escalator a stunning and vital component of the Elbphilharmonie. Taking us into a future where technology and culture takes center stage.

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