How much is a landmark worth?

In 2011, as cost estimates for Hamburg’s new waterfront concert hall soared and kept soaring, Barbara Kisseler, the city’s senator for culture, told reporters that “the Elbphilharmonie is very dear to us. In both senses of the word.”

Skipping past the remarkable fact that Hamburg has a position called “senator for culture,” it is fascinating to consider her statement now that the hall, which cost nearly $1 billion, is open to the public — and now that the public has made it one of the most popular new cultural destinations in northern Europe.

As an example of contemporary design and a civic project, the concert hall, designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, is less a cautionary tale about high budgets or a case study in cultural tourism than a near-perfect distillation of the last two decades of architectural history. Take a dash of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in the Spanish city of Bilbao and Richard Meier’s Getty Center, both of which will be celebrating their 20th birthdays this fall. Add pinches of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s Broad Museum in Los Angeles. Throw in bits of Herzog & de Meuron’s own Tate Modern in London and Shigeru Ban’s branch of the Pompidou Center in Metz, France.

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Cynthia Hirschhornart, parks