The Act of Constructive Subsidence
Elke Krasny 12/2006
Wolfgang Tschapeller’s design for Bauhaus Europe demonstrates the sort of space contemporary architecture can create if it reflects the cultural development of Europe. What he has translated into three-dimensional food for thought, with exemplary, uncompromising radicalism, is the definition of a building type that is the first of its kind: a Bauhaus Europe localized in Katschhof, the heart of Aachen’s old town. It is a building intended to negotiate, debate and perceive Europe’s past, present and future, a building based on the premise of reflecting the plan and the program in its spaces – a courageous undertaking.
The design initiates an act of construction that neither curries favor with nor disdainfully ignores existing structures. Quite to the contrary, the act of construction reanimates the connecting lines of the historical order of the urban space – from Roman to Carolingian to post-industrial – and curates a continuation of the quintessence of these intellectual connections. The topology of the layers of urban space perpetuates the exterior environment in the interior of the building. The continuous interior space is accessed from Katschhof square, unfolding functions and intentions: the entrance level as a constant, the underside elevation as the blurred boundary of the temporary exhibition and the forum, and the research and teaching spaces as a tectonic system of clouds above them. Its transparency is programmatic – not everything can be seen at first glance.
The combination of interpretation and transformational implementation is manifest in the concepts “index”, as a map of the entirety of European history, and “reading beam”, both used to guide the design and constitute the spaces. The quintessence of Western thought is evident in the urban environment: the city hall and the Palatine chapel, and the imperial passage connecting them. Protected from wind and weather, the ruler used to walk between the centers of secular and religious power on a covered path. The “royal road” became a figure of speech, meaning an auspicious or easy way to achieve something.
Retracing these historical lines, Bauhaus Europe stands to become the “royal road”, literally and figuratively, allowing us to understand past, present and future developments as a passage that allows space for mythical projections, and in particular the insights derived from them. The royal road was the primary design concept applied to the building plot. As a mobile building section, the idea was then imbued with life. The Reading Beam exemplifies the privileged position of observers, enabling them to see the big picture. The observers’ positions cast shadows on the map of events below them. In turn, the events localized below them have cast their long shadows. The shadows are continuously lengthening, but also constantly mobile, as is the reading beam. Projections are given a major role to play. For visitors, the building is never the same, but always changing. They have to check their position by the Reading Beam’s position as compared to the Index. Bauhaus Europe contains space-time as time in space and as space in time. The folded map with its lines, layers, heights and depths relies on views from the outside, as well as views of the repeatedly rewritable attributions in the Index. There are empty spaces, reserves of space all the way to 2800 – a refreshing change in an era where compilations of the past often permanently obstruct our perspective on potential futures.
The two-stage international competition for Bauhaus Europe was launched in the summer of 2005. Among others, a curatorial study by Okwui Enwezor and a project study by OMA/AMO served as the basis for the competition.
The second stage of the competition for Bauhaus Europe was decided in January 2006. The jury recommended the execution of the project by Wolfgang Tschapeller Architects.
In the summer of 2006, a majority vote by the city government of Aachen decided in favor of the construction of Bauhaus Europe. At around the same time, a petition for a referendum, signed by about 10,000 supporters, was filed by opponents of the Bauhaus project. The City of Aachen scheduled the referendum for December 2006.
On December 10th, 2006, around 80,000 of the city’s 180,000 voters cast their votes in the referendum for or against the Bauhaus Europe project. 60,000 out of 80,000 voters were against the project.
Some aspects of the dispute around Bauhaus Europe are documented in:
Bauwelt 6/06, Feb. 3, 2006, vol. 97
Bauwelt 42/06, Nov. 3, 2006, vol. 97
Bauwelt 46/06, Dec. 1, 2006, vol. 97
Bauwelt 47/06, Dec. 8, 2006, vol. 97
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dec. 8, 2006, no. 286, supplement p. 40
Bauwelt 1-2/07, Jan 5, 2007, vol. 98 .
All: articles and letters to the editor on the project “Bauhaus Europe Aachen”
The Katschhof square dispute in Aachen
Bauwelt 42/06, Nov. 3, 2006, vol. 97
With articles by A. Naujokat, Monika Krücken, Jan Pieper
European Cultural Center “Bauhaus Europe”
Bauwelt 6/06, Feb. 3, 2006, vol. 97
European Cultural Center Aachen
Wettbewerbe Aktuell 4/2006
The new cultural center in Aachen, Bauhaus Europe, will hold an extraordinary position among contemporary architectural projects. For one thing, a unique site has been chosen for it: a building plot of the city of Aachen adjoining the space between the Palatine Chapel and the city hall. Following the curatorial considerations of Okwui Enwezor, the pair of the Palatine Chapel and the city hall in Aachen, together with the passage that once connected them, constitutes the materialization of a fundamental element of European culture. The dialogue between ecclesiastic and secular power is “objectified” by the building of the royal hall (city hall), the Palatine Chapel and the connecting passage.
For another thing, a European cultural center is no predetermined building type, but a building type that has yet to be defined. The European Cultural Center in Aachen will be neither museum nor monument, nor solely a presentation space. Europe’s cultural texture will be its focus, making it a setting for reflection and projection. Reflection means recognizing and understanding Europe’s shape of the past, and projection will mean the attempt to materialize, to suggest European projects of the future.
The European Cultural Center in Aachen will contain permanent and temporary exhibition spaces as well as educational, informational and research facilities amounting to around 3,900 m2. A forum with a large council hall for conferences and sessions of the municipal council will cover approx. 400 m2. The center will also feature the necessary administrative facilities, workshops, restaurant areas, shops, storerooms and so on.
In conceptual terms, the new cultural center in Aachen will be composed of 2 elements:
The READING BEAM: The historical connecting passage between the royal hall and the chapel was a significant tectonic element. The project refers back to the memory of the connecting passage. It detaches a fragment of the historical connecting passage and rotates it over the site. The result is a slowly rotating movement steadily scanning the site, a sort of mobile that confronts the visitor with constantly changing positions.
The INDEX: A giant map, folded and accessible, a sort of infinite document is spread over the entire site. It is a record of European history, its index, so to speak. The INDEX, which will map only the most essential coordinates at first, will be gradually constructed. Step by step, the giant, folded surface will be labeled, modulated and studded with images and sound emitters, objects and writing. Projections will be superimposed on horizontal, vertical and curved surfaces in ever new ways.
The surface tectonics of the INDEX react to the essential events in history. Surface tension, indentations, inclinations and openings shape the narrative. Okwui Enwezor says that “... time is condensed, so to speak, takes on a shape, becomes artistically visible. In the same way, space is enriched and reacts to the movements of time, actions and history.” Enwezor also says, “History is the object.”
Nodal points of history are applied to the site. They are superimposed on the site and the functional demands on the site. Histories, nodal points of history are placed over the topographical and functional conditions. A reconstruction, re-mapped history becomes a building element. This element is called the INDEX. At the informational level, the INDEX is the summary of all events in European history. At the physical level, the INDEX is a structure, a substrate like a map, which materializes nodal points in history.
The READING BEAM and the INDEX constitute a pair like the PALATINE CHAPEL and the ROYAL HALL.
The PERMANT EXHIBITION is placed on the INNER SIDE of the Index. It is the object; it is history, as Enwezor says. The INDEX is the PERMANENT EXHIBITION. The TEMPORARY EXHIBITION is positioned on the OUTER SIDE of the INDEX. It may be independent of the INDEX. However, it may also specifically explain NODAL POINTS of the INDEX.
The SUPPORTING LEVEL of the INDEX separates the UPPER SIDE from the LOWER SIDE, and the INNER SIDE from the OUTER SIDE. The supporting level of the Index will be a rib structure. The surface will be a MOUNTING SURFACE, composed of individual panels that can be detached and remounted depending on need. Spatial permeability between the permanent exhibition and the temporary exhibition can thus be controlled.
Spatial connections and permeations between the Index and the temporary exhibition may be designed arbitrarily, depending on the exigencies of the exhibition configuration. Topical and spatial linkages between the Index and temporary exhibitions or detailed exhibitions may thus be created. Mobile gangways serve to create ever new paths for visitors.
The undulating surfaces of the INDEX space are in principle accessible. The inclinations of the surfaces are predominantly based on the surrounding cityscape. Main pathways are constructed by means of recessed or elevated steps on the terrain. Visitors can walk into the angle-free space defined only by the markings of history. YOU CAN WALK INTO HISTORY. You can take a stroll through history. Developing the INDEX becomes a curatorial task. The curator can position paths over the INDEX at his discretion.
The READING BEAM is situated high above the INDEX, the historical overview. The READING BEAM is a mobile bridge. It offers visitors the opportunity of a sweeping view, a survey of the permanent installations.
Visitors may step onto the READING BEAM at any time, even when it is in motion. Access is from a fixed catwalk via an access stair that goes over the railing of the catwalk. The access stair is linked to the READING BEAM by joints and has a railing.
From a technological point of view, the READING BEAM is moved by means of 2 driving units. A driving unit consists of a four-wheel carriage with a rotating assembly flange-connected to its bottom. In addition, each driving unit is equipped with a length compensation mechanism. The carriages are equipped with electrical drives. A measuring and control system ensures control over movement and driving speed. In principle, slow driving speeds are planned, depending on needs, e.g. one movement cycle in the course of one month, one day or one hour (60m/h). The movements of the READING BEAM are calendrical, comparable to clockworks, sundials, camera dollies etc. To ensure the safety of the visitors, the READING BEAM is equipped with all necessary safety systems such as sensor strips, emergency stops etc.
The speed and trajectory of the Reading Beam can be programmed. The Reading Beam has a sort of independent existence; it keeps the building moving, subjectifying it, so to speak, even when it is empty.
Geschwindigkeit und Weg des Lesebalkens sind programmierbar. Der Lesebalken führt eine Art Eigenleben, er hält das Gebäude in Bewegung, subjektiviert es sozusagen auch im Leerzustand.
The Reading Beam is designed as a bridge, capable of bearing visitors (readers). At the same time, the Reading Beam is an optical and acoustic tool. The Reading Beam can write on and annotate the Index. Initial experiments on inscriptions and projections were carried out for the competition project. These experiments are the first in a series considering the dissemination of knowledge and communication with virtual bodies of knowledge in real spaces as their field of exploration.
Der Lesebalken ist als Brücke ausgebildet, kann also Besucher (Leser) aufnehmen. Zugleich ist der Lesebalken ein optisch-akustisches Instrument. Der Lesebalken kann den Index beschreiben und beschriften. Für das Wettbewerbsprojekt wurden Minimalexperimente für Beschriftung und Projektion durchgeführt. Diese Experimente sind der Anfang einer Kette von Versuchen, welche die Vermittlung von Wissen und die Kommunikation mit virtuellen Wissenskörpern in realen Räumen als Versuchsfeld sehen.
In the summer of 2007, we developed a series of animations – simulations, actually – to explore the interactions of sound, narrative tracks and movement in space.
Im Sommer 2007 haben wir eine Reihe von Animationen entwickelt, richtiger Simulationen, die das Zusammenwirken von Ton, narrativen Spuren und Bewegung durch den Raum erforschen sollten.