Haus im Haus of Hamburg's Chamber of Commerce

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Haus im Haus of Hamburg's Chamber of Commerce
For a good 340 years, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce (Handelskammer) has been not only the central stock exchange and hub of the city’s economic life, but also a place of great social importance. Situated close to major city landmarks, the Binnenalster and the Jungfernstieg, this building and the City Hall together comprise the oldest classical architectural ensemble to have survived in the city. The Chamber of Commerce is an institution: a critical political lobbyist, a provider of comprehensive services to the business community and an independent advocate of the trade. In order that it might continue to fulfil these diverse functions in future years, it became necessary to radically convert the interior of the building on Adolphsplatz. Due to the increased use of modern information and communications technology, space for new usages had become available in the Hamburg Stock Exchange, the ‘Börsenhalle’. In consideration of both the structural condition of the listed ‘Börsenhalle’ building and the mandatory preservation of its historical features, a new five-storey structure was inserted into it: a ‘house within a house’ (Haus im Haus) that comprises circa 1,000 sq.m for new usages and also reflects in contemporary style the building’s long history as a focal meeting point of Hamburg’s financial and business communities. The initial core concept was to create a predominantly transparent structure with a large surface area. In the course of elaborating the design it became evident, however, that various technical requirements would hamper its realisation. The original building rests on oak piles and this necessitated a number of security measures, including more comprehensive fire prevention. The client furthermore wished that ‘business as usual’ continue unimpeded throughout the construction phase, which meant that numerous elements would have to be prefabricated and discreetly delivered to the site in manageable dimensions. Transparency could consequently have been attained only in certain parts of the structure. Only by further revising the concept was it possible to achieve the desired impression of lightness. The structure unfolds as seemingly free-floating levels and planes that consciously contrast the historic hall’s ponderous stone bulk: here, the soft lines of vaulted constructions, there, the clear lines of the new structure: a bright apparition constructed of luminous, transparent and reflective materials, reminiscent of a glittering, multi-faceted jewel that absorbs and refracts light. To all appearances and despite the evidently shared space, common features are consciously lacking. On the one hand, the site’s interior arrangement fulfils each respective area’s practical requirements yet, on the other, it is conceived in such a way as to give rise within itself and in its relation to the historical building to a shifting spectrum of spatial situations that surprise and fascinate visitors. The new extension thus functions as a prism through which the historic hall can be perceived from various perspectives in unendingly new variations. The new development provides space for a Business Start-up and Development Unit, the display of the Chamber’s Library of Commerce – the oldest of its kind in the world – and a Club with premium catering. Opposite the original Service Centre on the ground floor is an Information and Advice Centre run by the Business Start-up and Development Unit, which has further counselling areas and three enclosed spaces for confidential talks directly above, on the first level, reached by spiral stairs. The second level is linked by a bridge with the ‘Albert Schäfer Auditorium’ in the historical hall and can hence provide additional space for receptions, exhibition openings and other events. Busts of renowned citizens of Hamburg flank this level, which a further bridge links to the reception area of the historical hall’s ‘Praeses suite’: the offices of the Chairman of the Board. The third level accommodates the Chamber of Commerce’s exhibition, ‘We Act for Hamburg’ and a further area reserved for the display of bibliographic treasures from its Library of Commerce, which are duly protected in specially designed showcases. The two upper levels have a more private character and are accessed by smaller internal stairs. On Level 4 is the Börsen Club restaurant. Visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the hall from its extensive terrace. From the bar adjoining the restaurant, one can follow a series of showcases containing further exhibits from the Commerzbank Collection to reach the lounge and cabinets on the fifth level. The cabinets are designed for smaller meetings – for which catering can be provided on request- and their proportions and textile furnishings imbue them with particular flair and atmosphere. Luxurious fitted carpets, solid English chesterfields and cream-coloured textile wall-coverings together create a further contrast to the glass and metallic structures of the new extension. The juxtaposition of an antique and a contemporary chandelier – the more modern of which comprises LED modules – emphasises an important motif of the ‘house within a house’, namely, the integration and reinterpretation in a contemporary style of the historical building’s various aspects and atmospheres, as a means of accentuating the Chamber’s long-standing traditions. Through the band of historical arched windows and from the terrace on the roof of the Albert Schäfer Auditorium, reached by a generously proportioned footbridge, there is a fine view of the rooftops of the Hanseatic city and the City Hall. The light, free-floating character of the new extension is complemented and accentuated by an LED lighting system that was jointly developed by the architects and a lighting manufacturer. Although not part of the original architectural competition entry, the lighting system was later seen to offer extraordinary potential for special lighting effects. Lighting can be adjusted to meet the practical demands of various working situations. It can be set, for example, to bathe a room either in what appears to be a floating cloud of soft light or, conversely, in an incandescent blaze. Floors are lit from below either by broad grid formations of light modules or by other smaller clusters that set particular accents.

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