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Iconic architecture and place-specific neoliberal governmentality: Insights from Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall


  • Jan Balke

    (University of Münster, Germany)

  • Paul Reuber

    (University of Münster, Germany)

  • Gerald Wood

    (University of Münster, Germany)


As a global travelling idea, iconic architecture plays an increasingly important role within transnational urban policy discourses. Nonetheless, the locally specific geographies of governmental rationalities and technologies often remain vague and inexplicit, although they have a profound impact on the powerful processes of iconic architectural production. This aspect can be made particularly clear with regard to the case study of Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall – the new iconic concert hall on Hamburg’s redeveloped waterfront. Thus, the case study on hand emphasises the locally distinct ways in which place-specific ‘arts of government’ are tied to contemporary processes of neoliberal urbanisation. Drawing on the Foucauldian notion of governmentality, the paper first lays open the contingent rationalities of the Elbe Philharmonic Hall project and discloses how fundamental transformations within geopolitical and geo-economic discourses gave rise to local policy objectives that emphasise the need to translate Hamburg’s urban change into an ‘adequate’ urbanistic shape. Second, the paper reflects on how place-specific discourses and practices of civic commitment and patronage become instrumentalised for the public legitimation and political enforcement of the project and thus become integral parts of a post-political regime of neoliberal governmentality.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan Balke & Paul Reuber & Gerald Wood, 2018. "Iconic architecture and place-specific neoliberal governmentality: Insights from Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 55(5), pages 997-1012, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:urbstu:v:55:y:2018:i:5:p:997-1012

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