Perfect Harmony

A French and Austrian Project Team Worked in Unison To Deliver a Music Hall Renovation on Time



Concert hall at Palais de la Musique et des Congrès in Strasbourg, France


A model of the redesigned symphony hall and convention center

When the city of Strasbourg, France decided to upgrade its symphony hall and convention center, it was mostly looking to expand its space. But during the bid process, architecture firms Rey-Lucquet & Associés and Dietrich Untertrifaller offered the city something more.

The project team's proposal re-envisioned the entire complex, leveraging existing buildings while creating a newly unified aesthetic.

“The existing buildings were heterogeneous, and we tried to homogenize it,” says Heiner Walker, partner and project manager, Dietrich Untertrifaller, Bregenz, Austria. “So this is why we wanted to build one facade around the whole complex.”

Of course, the new design would cost more—but it also could deliver greater value. A new visual landmark promised to make a big impression on visitors and make Strasbourg a more desirable conference and exhibition destination in the heart of Europe.

Bolstered by Rey-Lucquet's reputation and experience working with government stakeholders, the city opted for the transformative renovation. The final plan for the €56.5 million Palais de la Musique et des Congrès included a 3,000-square-meter (32,292-square-foot) multifunctional hall, a conference hall that holds 450 people, a 520-seat auditorium, a 1,200-seat auditorium as well as an 1,800-seat concert hall and new rehearsal hall for the Strasbourg Philharmonic orchestra.

But even though the scope increased, the final delivery date had to remain the same. The convention center's management had booked a large professional meeting for August 2016.


Main entrance

“The existing buildings were heterogeneous, and we tried to homogenize it. So this is why we wanted to build one facade around the whole complex.”

—Heiner Walker, Dietrich Untertrifaller, Bregenz, Austria

“It was always clear that the building site had to be finished by August, because there was no Plan B for this congress,” says Mr. Walker.

To keep the five-year project on track, the team found creative ways to cut costs, avoid delays and keep the team working in concert.

While the city of Strasbourg was willing to increase its original €50 million budget for a project that would deliver more value, the team still had to keep costs in check. That meant finding ways to work around expensive design elements on the fly—without compromising quality.

For instance, the original building design included a wall-to-ceiling glass facade supported by a massive steel structure. The plan was to connect the concrete ceilings to the steel structure. But the construction company the project team chose to work with didn't specialize in building with steel. To cut project costs and reduce this risk, the project team decided to revise the design, incorporating a facade made with prefabricated concrete.

“We were reactive in adapting our plans and finding cheaper solutions together with the building company,” Mr. Walker says.

The team also made sure that cost- and schedule-related changes wouldn't detract from the power and beauty of the building.

“If we were forced to change on one side, we didn't just change that side,” Mr. Walker says. “We tried to figure out what that meant for the rest of the building. And so we did extra work as well to maintain the big picture.”



Main foyer


The rehearsal room of the Strasbourg Philharmonic orchestra

Measure by Measure

2011 Design proposals are accepted

2013 Construction begins

2015 Construction of hall extension completed

2016 Renovation work on existing hall completed

September 2016 Expanded and redesigned convention center hosts first conference


Stainless steel arcades




Heiner Walker,

partner and project manager, Dietrich Untertrifaller Architects

Location: Bregenz, Austria

Experience: 16 years

Other notable projects:

1. Festspielhaus, a conference center in Bregenz, Austria that opened in 2006. It was featured in the film Quantum of Solace. Mr. Walker served as a project manager.

2. I+R Headquarters, a LEED-Platinum office building in Lauterach, Austria completed in 2012. Mr. Walker served as a project manager.

Career lessons learned:

“Being creative and flexible with solutions saves time and money—and helps maintain overall architectural quality. Also: Expect the unexpected and keep a bit of money in the budget for that.”


In addition to closing the project on time, the team also had to keep the convention center open throughout the construction process. Located in central Europe, Strasbourg is a popular place for conventions. (See “At the Crossroads,” page 61.)

“Building in an existing structure is always good for providing surprises.”

—Heiner Walker

“The fear was that if you stop activity for two years, the convention center would be almost dead,” says Olivier de Crécy, associate architect, Rey-Lucquet, Strasbourg, France. “So that's why they required that commercial activity be maintained.”

The project team split the construction work into three main phases to avoid a complete shutdown. The first step was to build the new conference hall in front of the existing facade.


Rhin multifunctional hall


Cassin Auditorium

“People could work in the offices and conference rooms behind the facade while construction in front of the facade took place,” Mr. Walker says. “When the first step was finished, the offices moved out into the new part, and then we could renovate the existing part.”


Repurposing existing structures helped the team keep costs low and compress the project schedule. But it also introduced unknown risks.

“Building in an existing structure is always good for providing surprises,” Mr. Walker says.

One such surprise revolved around unexpected levels of asbestos in the buildings. While the team anticipated finding the toxin in some areas, workers also found lead in some coatings of the existing steel structure on the roof.

At the Crossroads

The conference and music center's central location attracts visitors from across Europe—and helps drive ROI.

1 Strasbourg, France

2 Paris, France

3 Zurich, Switzerland

4 Bern, Switzerland

5 Brussels, Belgium

6 Frankfurt, Germany

7 Munich, Germany


Schweitzer Auditorium


Marie Curie conference hall

There was no way to fast-track asbestos remediation, because in France the remediation authorization process alone takes weeks. So this discovery added time—and pressure—to the already tight schedule, says Mr. de Crécy.

“It took one month to remove it all,” he says. “And to stay on schedule, the client just said, ‘Okay, we'll take less time to do the rest of the building.’”


To make up lost time, the project team looked for ways to speed up later phases of construction. One solution was to offer the construction company overtime pay. This would make it possible for workers to stay on-site longer than eight hours each day and work on Saturday. But obtaining additional funds required approval from the city of Strasbourg.

“In France, it's really hard to get authorization to spend more money for a public project. It's a slow decision,” says Mr. de Crécy. “But here, the project manager from the town was almost directly connected to the head of the town. So they could make decisions very quickly.”

Because the delivery date was set in stone, the town was willing to invest in increased labor costs and ask for special authorization to work outside of the normal hours allowed on French public projects.

“If you stop activity for two years, the convention center would be almost dead.”

—Olivier de Crécy, Rey-Lucquet, Strasbourg, France

While the project did add roughly €1.5 million in labor costs during execution, it still ended up costing much less than other convention center projects, says Mr. de Crécy. The project cost roughly €1,600 per square meter, he says, while the European average is closer to €2,600 per square meter.

In the end, the music hall and convention center opened on time—and has since met the needs of both the Strasbourg Philharmonic as well as the conference and conventions managers, Mr. Walker says.

“So far we have had only happy voices from the audience—and from the orchestra as well.” PM