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CommonFund HEPI Comp.jpgAs we have seen, the Ivy league schools now march in lock step as they raise their tuition rates year after year at rates far higher than the growth of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Last year six of the Ancient Eight, including Dartmouth, raised tuition in a narrow band between 3.7% and 3.9%. The index that locks their step is the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) — calculated each year by the CommonFund.

The Commonfund Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) is an inflation index designed specifically to track the main cost drivers in higher education. It is an essential planning tool for educational managers, helping schools to understand the future budget and funding increases required to maintain real purchasing power. HEPI is issued annually by Commonfund Institute and is distributed free of charge to educational institutions.

HEPI is a more accurate indicator of changes in costs for colleges and universities than the more familiar Consumer Price Index. It measures the average relative level of prices in a fixed basket of goods and services purchased by colleges and universities each year through current fund educational and general expenditures, excluding research.

HEPI is compiled from data reported and published by government and economic agencies. The eight categories cover current operational costs of colleges and universities. These include salaries for faculty, administrative employees, clerical employees, and service employees, fringe benefits, utilities, supplies and materials, and miscellaneous services.

Forgive an ironic aside, but an index that reflects bad management serves only to institutionalize bad management: professors turned administrators of billion-dollar enterprises use it to avoid managing costs; they simply follow the HEPI, which serves as a cover for their profligacy.

After all, the great majority of a school’s employees (janitors, dining hall workers, administrative assistants, maintenance and technical workers, accountants and administrators, etc.) are doing the same work as their homologues in the private sector. And the remainder of an institution’s costs (building construction, outside services, travel, taxes, utilities and so forth) are no different from the costs of doing business that face any equivalent company. In short, if colleges and universities were well managed, there is no reason why their costs should not rise at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index — apart from the industry-specific cost of faculty and senior administrators, which Economics Professor Eric Zitzewitz calculates as only 10% of Dartmouth’s budget

My data-driven ‘18 crunched the numbers for the CPI, the HEPI and Dartmouth tuition growth over the past twenty-five years. Another ugly picture:

Tuition CPI HEPI.jpg

As you can see, in almost every year over the past quarter century, the HEPI outpaced the CPI. And in almost all of those years, Dartmouth’s tuition growth was faster than the HEPI — even though we do business in a low-cost, rural environment.

Worse still, in recent years, such growth has been in contravention of a bold assertion Phil Hanlon made when he became President. In an interview on November 30, 2012 with the New York Times, he commented, “The historic funding model for higher ed is close to unsustainable. We can’t continue superinflationary tuition increases.”

Well, Phil. What’s it going to be in 2017-2018? In the current academic year tuition went up by 3.8%, even though the HEPI rose at less than 2% and the CPI was up less than 1%. Phil’s fig leaf was that 1% of the increase was put in place to cover the cost of his new house system.

And in the coming academic year? My bet is that tuition, room and board, and fees will rise by 2.5%-3.0% — even though the HEPI and CPI were stable at less than 2% and 1% respectively. We’ll probably go from $66,174 to a figure in the area of $68,000. What do you call that, Phil? I call in unsustainable in every way.

We’ll find out the real number after this weekend’s Trustee meeting.

Addendum: The extent of the College’s poor management becomes even more evident when you consider that soaring tuition costs have taken place even as the College has been underpaying faculty and deferring maintenance on academic and residential buildings. Though, to be fair, we can’t say that the Wright/Kim/Folt/Hanlon administrations have ever shirked in hiring administrators.

Emmy-Award-nominated actress Connie Britton ‘89 discussed her Dartmouth FSP experience in Beijing (where she shared a room with NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ‘88) on Stephen Colbert’s show today (starts at 3:10):

Connie pointedly says that she went to Dartmouth College (a word you don’t hear much in Hanover these days), and in the face of Colbert’s skeptical questioning, she touts the fact that she was out in the world on her own with other students.

As I have written before, the College still has the largest and best set of foreign study programs in the land — not that you learn this fact much from Admissions. An intelligent administration would both play up our singular institutional strength, and also double down on it by increasing the number of programs and making participation in one a graduation requirement of all students.

Addendum: Dartmouth off-campus programs offer opportunities not available in Hanover — as Dartmouth News reports in an article entitled In South Africa, Students Make a Major Fossil Discovery:

It’s not every day that a couple of college students discover a fossilized piece of bone likely to have come from a 2-million-year-old ancestor. But that’s what Keira Byno ‘19, Julia Cohen ‘18, and Kathleen Li ‘17 did this winter during a three-week field trip to South Africa for their anthropology class, “Experiencing Human Origins and Evolution.”

Excavating at a UNESCO World Heritage site at Malapa, northwest of Johannesburg, with 12 other Dartmouth anthropology students, Associate Professor Jeremy DeSilva, and Professor Nathaniel Dominy, the novice anthropologists were expecting to learn a lot. They were not expecting to make an important contribution to science.

“Out of every fossil that’s found, there’s a one-in-250,000 chance that it’s early human. The fact that we found a fossil is amazing. But finding this fossil, out of sheer luck, was incredibly exciting,” says Cohen.

As the formerly Daily D adopts a staggered, thrice-weekly schedule, it is worth reflecting on the paper as it was in days gone by. In the 1950-51 academic year there were 2,599 undergraduates at the College (today there are 4,310). Every day they produced a four-page, six-column broadsheet that seemed to cover every aspect of Dartmouth life (and they did so without computers). Notably the paper allocated little or no space to national affairs (did everyone just read the Times back then?):

The D February 28, 1950 Page 1.jpg

The February 28, 1950 paper is dominated by a campus-wide referendum on discriminatory membership clauses imposed on Dartmouth’s fraternities by their nationals. Brown v. Board was several years in the future, but the College was on its way to ending formal prejudice in the Greek system — with the result that many houses went local.

The D also notes that the basketball team beat Hofstra — something that has not happened in a while — and the back page features a large ad for Philip Morris cigarettes (“less irritating, definitely milder,” and “no cigarette hangover”). Some things do change.

Addendum: See pages 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the February 28, 1950 edition in pdf form.

Addendum: Back then the students had time, too, to build a great Carnival snow sculpture in the middle of the Green, and one in front of each dorm and fraternity. Here is Alpha Sigma’s effort from 1936:

Alpha Sigma 1936.jpeg

I am the walrus. Goo goo g’ joob.

Steve Jobs admired creative people, but the work wasn’t done until all that inspiration had been turned into a product that could be delivered to customers. Hence his iconic aphorism cited in my headline. Thayer Professor Tillman Gerngross meets that test in spades. Wherever he casts his gaze, innovative and useful ideas and then actions follow, whether as an admired Professor of Engineering, the now-former head of the College’s Office of Entrepreneurship & Technology Transfer, owner of the Canaan Motor Club (once the Canaan Fair Speedway), founder of Glycofi (sold to Merck in 2006 for $400 million), or co-founder and CEO of Adimab (whose current valuation is on its way towards $3 billion).

In the Presidential Faculty lecture on Wednesday, Tillman will talk about his work at the College over the past nineteen years, and how his desire to have impact on the real world led to the birth of a number of companies that are touching real lives:

Tillman Gerngross Speech.jpg

One of the reasons you come to the College is to rub shoulders with remarkable people. Here’s a chance. Take it.

Addendum: Several weeks ago, Gerngross was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

Addendum: Here is the Dartmouth News release about Gerngross’ lecture.

Congrats and good health to the Tuck Wine Club!

Tuck Wine Club.jpg

Addendum: Bordeaux is where most wine drinkers start. But Burgundy is where the sensitive palates end up.

Addendum: There is no truth the the rumor that as a prerequisite for graduation, all Dartmouth undergrads must identify a Keystone Light from among a selection of premium beers.

The high-quality Dartmouth football videos just keep coming:

What recruits wouldn’t want to come to a winter wonderland where teammates have a great time together? And what athletes wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing themselves doing a little bit of everything other than football?

The folks in Floren should hold a marketing seminar for the people in Parkhurst and McNutt.

Addendum: Tell me that the guys and their families don’t think of themselves as heroic when they watch the team in videos like this:

Of some people it has been said, “They could sell snow to Eskimos.” Actually, they couldn’t. No matter how good a sales rep, nobody can sell a weak product for more than a short period of time (“You can fool some of the people some of the time…,” etc.). And so it is at Dartmouth. There are two high level jobs open now (not counting the Dean of the Faculty, and, ahem, the Provost position). Which one would you like to fill? And where might you stand a better chance of being successful?

Try on the Vice President, Presidential Initiatives and Principal Gifts for size. Phil will have been in Hanover for four years in June, and a capital campaign has long been in the offing, but our President is still searching for a worthy to fill this critical position — I say “still” because I did a post on June 23, 2016 about the open job. Here’s the first part of the current Help Wanted ad:

Advancement VP.jpg

My June post cited a memo dated March 8, 2016 that announced that Michael Kiefer was leaving as VP. Wow. Phil is gearing up for the capital campaign, and the staffer who is supposed to land the big ones has effectively been gone for a year now.

What does that tell you? It tells me that nobody serious in the fundraising world wants to work with either temperamental Bob Lasher ‘88 or feckless Phil Hanlon ‘77 — whose administration offers almost nothing in the way of checkbook-opening initiatives or leaders who can inspire donors to be generous. It also says that Phil is a terrible judge of character — by all reports he still loves Bob Lasher, when all about him have lost respect for the man and his inabilities. Judging character is probably the top requirement for a senior manager.

By way of contrast, let’s turn to Tuck, where an Executive Director of Admissions is needed:

Tuck Admissions Director.jpg

Of course, the College receives many more applications that it has spots, too, but Tuck can offer a unique selling proposition: the smallest of the major b-schools; a tight sense of community; by far the most loyal alumni (as measured by the percentage of graduates who give money each year); and a sense that the school understands itself and is on the move upwards from its already comfortable position in the Top 10.

I’d take that status any day over the drifting College, where good initiatives die on the vine for lack of funding, even as tens of millions of dollars are wasted on a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy each year.

Addendum: Note also the distinction between the first paragraphs in each of these two recruiting advertisements. Phil’s bunch provides an overview of the general strengths and prestige of the institution; Tuck’s ad emphasizes today’s excellent student experience. Need I say more?

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Elizabeth Smith.jpgElizabeth Smith is the Paul M. Dauton, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences and the Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Sciences. Her research is focused in the field of cell biology, to which she has made significant contributions during a career that has spanned over two decades.

Smith was educated at Agnes Scott College in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, GA, where she received a B.A. with Honors in Biology in 1987. She then completed her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at Emory University in 1992. Perhaps the humidity got to her, or perhaps not, but in any case Smith departed for colder pastures at the University of Minnesota, where she served as a postdoc from 1992 to 1998. Dartmouth came a-calling thereafter, and Smith has been in Hanover ever since. She received tenure in 2004, the rank of full professor in 2010, and her endowed chair in 2014. In the past few years, Smith has been especially busy when it comes to institutional service: from 2012 to 2015 she was Chair of the Biology Department, and in 2015 she was appointed Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Sciences.

Understanding Smith’s work, even on a basic level, may pose a bit of a challenge to those of us who had a tendency to develop sudden headaches during biology lectures in high school. It’s well worth the mental effort, though, in light of the fact that Smith’s research is both interesting — even from the perspective of someone without a scientific background — and applicable to important issues in human health. She sums up the activities of her lab as follows:

We use a combination of genetic, biochemical, structural and functional approaches to dissect the molecular mechanisms which control dynein-driven microtubule sliding to produce the high beat frequency and complex waveforms characteristic of motile eukaryotic cilia/flagella.

Cilia and flagella refer to the thin, wavy organelles — sub-units or components of a cell — that protrude outwards from the surface of almost every cell in the human body. There are two types of cilia, non-motile and motile. As the names imply, non-motile cilia do not move, whereas the motile variant do; I personally imagine the latter as the microbiological version of the waving, inflatable people you can see outside many a used car dealership.

Professor Smith focuses on these motile cilia, which perform a variety of essential biological tasks ranging from the circulation of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain and the clearing of debris from the lungs to moving a fertilized egg to a woman’s uterus. As such, defects in the formation or behavior of cilia can manifest themselves in a host of problems like hydrocephaly, respiratory difficulties, and infertility.

Cilia perform their functions by beating in coordinated waves that are dictated by an extremely complex process dependent on dynein, a type of protein which is mainly responsible for converting chemical energy into work. To do its job, dynein moves along what are called microtubules, the tiny tubular bodies that form the internal structure of cilia, creating a force that leads to the organelles’ characteristic bending motion. The transmission of the signals that regulate dynein movement, and by extension the behavior of cilia, depends in large part on the presence and concentration of molecules such as calcium in a cell. Through research that has been consistently funded to the tune of millions of dollars by the NIH and other organizations, Smith explores the precise mechanisms and variables behind this very complicated dance.

In recent years, Smith has taught a range of undergraduate and graduate courses in the Biology Department, including Cell Structure and Function, Advanced Topics in Cell Biology, and The Molecular Mechanisms of Cellular Responses. She has sat on dozens of undergraduate and graduate thesis committees and has employed numerous students in her laboratory, many of whom have gone on to pursue related careers in academia and industry.

Among Smith’s more notable accomplishments, moreover, is the purchase of state-of-the-art microscope work stations for undergraduate biology courses, which was funded by grant money from the NSF’s Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement program. Her initiative here is the reason why students of cell biology at Dartmouth can now take advantage of modern microscopy. Currently, the equipment is shared with students from local schools through outreach programs; access to such advanced technology is unusual for rural areas. And in the little spare time that she has, Smith manages to do things like organize and co-chair this recent Gordon Research Conference, which brought together scientists and clinicians dedicated to understanding mucociliary clearance. Hopefully, this sort of collaboration will lead to new therapies for diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

At the meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Monday, February 13, 2017, the faculty re-ratified the following Statement of Principle:

Faculty Statement of Principles.jpg

Pretty bland stuff, right? Nope. Not at all. These ideas are the faculty’s genteel and not so gentle way of telling Phil that he is falling down on the job; the assembled professors were trying to focus our President’s attention on what ails his feckless administration and the College. Allow me to translate:

1. Don’t abandon the present faculty in favor of your little clusters and pet energy institute.

2. The notion of shared governance has meaning. Ignore the faculty at your peril.

3. Diversity bla-bla-bla. (I believe that by law a reference to diversity and inclusiveness has to appear in all College documents.)

4. We need to be paid like professors at our peer institutions. Now.

5. The place is falling apart, and we don’t want a system for allocating space imposed upon us. We need to participate in decisions about new buildings. Too many un-kept promises about renovations and investments have been made in the past.

Phil is on notice now. If he doesn’t respond, what will be the faculty’s next step?

Addendum: Members of the faculty singly and in groups have been to see Phil to criticize his poor performance as President and the lack of purpose and achievement of his administration. Phil cringes, and in response he can only ask what he can do better. Then nothing happens.

At what point will the College’s professors exhaust their patience? As anyone who hires and fires with any frequency can tell you, people don’t change. With Phil Hanlon WYSIWYG.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in with a good point:

Note that the diversity boilerplate in the statement says nothing about intellectual diversity.

College Pulse’s Terren Klein and his friends are not only skilled at gathering interesting data using their web-based survey software, but they are expert in the modern art of data visualization. Take a look at the Grade Point Averages of the members of the College’s various Greek houses as compared to the means of affiliated and unaffiliated students. All of the data comes from the College:

Greek Life Academics.jpg

(Sorry for the difficulty in reading some of the data on your screen. SigEps’s GPA at the top of the pyramid is 3.59, just a hair under A-.)

I find it striking how closely bunched the various cohorts are. Dartmouth students need to pass 35 courses in order to graduate; after four years of study, it seems that all students and all unaffiliated students go to Commencement with the same average GPA : 3.47.

What does that tell you about the Greeks? It’s hard to say. That they can earn the same grades as students who don’t haze/carouse/drink and play pong with the same ardor (not to mention spending time bonding with their brothers and sisters and engaging in charitable activities) speaks well of the Greeks — though they may just have better access to the best layup lists.

Even the GPA difference between Greek men (3.42) and Greek women (3.53) is less that it might seem: another way of looking at the meaning of a 0.11 gap in their GPAs is that the women achieved an A- in approximately eleven courses in which the men only earned a B+; otherwise, their grades were the same.

The two outliers in the chart are Alpha Phi Alpha and Gamma Delta Chi. Why?

Addendum: Go to College Pulse’s website and you can see the details of each Greek house’s grades over the past few year in contrast of other averages.

Abbey D’Agostino ‘14 talked about her path towards faith to a deeply attentive audience of about 200 Dartmouth students (four or five times the usual attendance) at the regular Monday night meeting at Beta of the Dartmouth Fellowship of Christian Athletes:

Abbey Beta Comp.jpg

She read from the Book of Deuteronomy and she spoke of how her character had been tested at various points in her athletic career (she is the most decorated track and field athlete in Ivy history) by injuries that made her see the things that are most important in life. As a result, she began “a raw and vulnerable” relationship with God. At the Games themselves she had two moving experiences while worshiping with other athletes — events that she feels prepared her for the instinctive and natural grace that she showed on the track.

At the end of her talk Abbey answered a number of questions, including one about the way the world reacted to her kindness toward fellow runner Nikki Hamblin:

It was almost encouraging that people saw and felt ‘there’s something about that’… it’s encouraging that people see a very simple act of kindness, and they are, like, ‘That’s what we’re like. There’s something about that, that unites us.’ And I think that it’s just cool that we know that, whether we can verbalize it or not, that inherently we’re created for that, to love.

Abbey NY Post1.jpg

Addendum: No one from the Hanlon administration attended the event, the only one in which Abbey participated during her brief visit to Hanover.

Addendum: Today’s Dartmouth News highlights the experience of Emma Reid T’17, a refugee from the conflict in Bosnia.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

The fact that Phil and his administrators ignored Abbey D’Agostino is par for the course; they appear to be detached and clueless as to the Dartmouth student body and greater community. He has been terrible at communicating all across the board.

He has not communicated a clear vision to alumni, and many supporters of the College feel ignored. He is concentrating on big donors, while essentially ignoring the rest. This is dangerous, since historically Dartmouth campaigns have been supported by many gifts in the $500,000 to $1,000,000 range.

He has been tone deaf to most students, choosing only to listen to a minority of activists. He ignored the student leader petition last spring, and there has been no response to several thoughtful pieces in The D. Students are clearly expressing their dissatisfaction with Phil’s administration by their lack of participation in the Class Gift.

One senses, as well, that he is not communicating effectively with the faculty, as he seemed surprised by their reaction to the Irving gift. He should have been out front on the matter of faculty salaries, which were below peer institutions, but he did not make it a priority.

From a distance, it strikes me that Phil and his team do not really appreciate that what makes Dartmouth unique is its focus on undergraduate education.

Curiously, Tuck does not want to attract people who are concerned about having safe spaces on campus; its advertising highlights that every aspect of its business education will be a stretch. My word, how striking to see a school treat students like confident adults:

Tuck Be Challenged Ad 2017.jpg

The above on-line ad was sent to subscribers of Poets & Quants, the leading paper targeted at prospective and current b-school students. One can imagine that Tuck prepared it for presentation in various different venues.

Tuck’s efforts seem to be paying off on every level, not only among its students (who as alumni contribute money more frequently than the students of any other b-school), but also including its reputation in the business world. The Economist ranked the school as having the #4 campus culture among the world’s business schools:

2017-02-16 23_00_27-Economist MBA cuture ranking 2017A.jpg

Both Tuck and Thayer appear to be well managed and moving up in the rankings of their respective fields. As for Geisel and the College, we need say no more.

Addendum: A current, lengthy P&Q profile compares Tuck and Stanford. The intro:

Of the prestige, brandname business schools in the world, you’re not likely to find two business schools that are more like each other than Dartmouth and Stanford. They’re similar in size and spirit. They’re both smaller MBA programs, with a similar mix of exceptionally smart students who play nicely together in a highly collaborative culture, with superb faculty. Because both schools get the majority of their budgets from fundraising and endowments, rather than tuition which accounts for about 40% or less of spending, they can better afford the luxury of smaller classes and higher faculty-to-student ratios. Both schools offer a true premium MBA experience. There’s no mixing of day and night students, or outsourcing big chunks of the core curriculum to poorly paid adjuncts, or spreading limited resources across part-time and executive MBA programs. Tuck has stronger East Coast connections, while Stanford is completely dominant in Silicon Valley.


Addendum: The Tuckies finished their Winter Carnival yesterday. Supposedly b-school students from twenty schools were in attendance. A wild time was had by all, as one might expect from the invitation video:

Lots of snow in Hanover this year with temperatures in the low single digits on occasion. Fortunately no -20° weather like my freshman winter in 1976; I remember two endless weeks of trudging from North Fayer down to the Murdough Center at Thayer for my History of the Atomic Bomb freshman seminar (it was both interesting and a science distrib). Occasionally I’d stop in Silsby to warm up:

That said, whatever temperature it is in Hanover, it’s colder back home in Montreal.

Addendum: Recently I’ve been using the ProCam 4 photography app on my iPhone 7, instead of Apple’s own Camera application. Beyond the technical control that ProCam 4 provides, its photos just seem to have more emotion. Click on the image for a full view.

The MVP rolls onwards. In this TV clip out of Arizona, Nick Lowery ‘78, who for many years held the record as the NFL’s most accurate field goal kicker, talks about the benefits of the Mobile Virtual Player:

When I was a freshman, Lowery, a future Kansas City Chief, kicked a 49-yard field goal against Harvard on a clear fall day in Cambridge. The ball hung in the air forever and barely carried over the crossbar. What a thrill for us! We had gone to Soldier’s Field to support Nick, who lived in the single across the hall from our triple in North Fayer. Harvard turned out a large crowd that day, but all we saw was our new friend way down on the field. He looked so small. In such moments, a student can fall in love with a school.

Addendum: The football program puts out videos that can only be described as romantic. How to counter in the minds of recruits that New Hampshire’s winter is long and cold? Not by being defensive. Describe the chilly months as beautiful, even poetic:

You know, the folks in Alumni Gym could really give the people in Parkhurst an education, if Phil and his minions would only listen.


A concert by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the recently completed Elbphilharmonie gave me an excuse to take the train up to Hamburg, one of my favorite places on the planet. The Hansestadt is like the Goldilocks’ porridge of German cities — not too stuffy (Munich), not too dirty and disjointed (Berlin), but just right. Hamburg is clean, beautiful, and well-organized, but one can nonetheless feel a certain freedom in the air when walking along the riverfront and gazing out into one of the world’s great harbors. It also provides something for every taste, from the salacious options along the Reeperbahn to the more highbrow entertainment offered by the State Opera and the NDR Symphony Orchestra, whose quality equals (and I would argue often exceeds) that of their musical counterparts in better-known destinations like Paris and Rome.

The Elbphilharmonie, now viewed as the unquestioned crown jewel of the city, is perched on the skeleton of one of the many brick warehouses to be found in Hamburg’s harbor district. It is a spectacular glass structure dominated by undulating lines that are meant to evoke the currents of the Elbe, which flows past the hall on two sides. During the day, the building adopts the color of the surrounding sky and water, and at night, it shimmers brilliantly with light from within. The impression is powerful:


IMG-20170212-WA0003.jpgThe contemporary spirit that went into designing the exterior of the Elbphilharmonie is to be felt inside as well. Concert-goers are transported up to the core of the structure by a slow-moving, gently sloped escalator that travels through a modernistic white tunnel (see right). I felt like I was in some sort of spaceship, and this impression did not die once we reached top and stepped into the main atrium. The walls and ceilings were all white, which lent the place a pure look, and the floor, along with the numerous staircases that connect to the upper levels, were of richly colored wood. One had to search long and hard to find straight lines, as the structures tend to move in unexpected directions, preventing the eye from settling in on any particular spot. Unlike many contemporary buildings, however, the design is neither haphazard nor careless. The views out into the harbor provided by the floor-to-ceiling windows, moreover, were breathtaking. The concert hall itself is also a sight to behold. I’ll let this picture do the talking:


I was curious to hear how the hall would perform acoustically in light of the unconventional design, especially after being subjected to the horrific (lack of) sound in the unfortunate Gasteig in Munich. As it turned out, my apprehension was unfounded. The Elbphilharmonie is certainly one of the sharpest-sounding spaces I’ve ever been to; a museum employee that I met the following day told me he felt the acoustics were in fact so clear as to be intimidating to anyone attempting to hold back a cough in the back row. The music itself, meanwhile, was ethereal and thought-provoking. Instead of relying on the usual structures of melody and harmony to spark emotion, Jóhannsson composes in waves and pulses of energy that subtly move up and down and back and forth. It was the perfect example of how the content of art should complement the identity of the space in which it is presented. Of course, you can always just close your eyes, relax, and listen.

Addendum: The story of the Elbphilharmonie isn’t all roses and honey. Approved in 2007 at a cost of 77 million euros, the structure was supposed to be completed in 2010. It’s now 2017, and the final price tag has reached €789 million (about $840 million). Did whoever was in charge of planning learn how to do their job from Dartmouth administrators? In contrast to the atrocious building projects plaguing Hanover, though, Hamburg’s ridiculous cost overruns did end up producing something extraordinary.



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