New Kesselhaus, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
|In what way does this project represent a change in building industry?
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – the obvious integration in the urban fabric and an architecture that relates to the character of the existing buildings make the new-build an inherent part of the family of buildings on the Nordstern Campus. Respect for the site and a resource-conserving construction method are essential factors supporting the sustainability of the boiler house.
|Why does this project stand for "Made in Germany"?
JSWD always develops its projects starting with the urban fabric –ideally all the way to the level of details. Responsibility to the site and the high technical quality/natural interplay of architecture and building technology make the boiler house a “Made in Germany” project.
Slightly shortened version of a discussion with Johannes Busmann, published in the magazine polis, 03/2018.
Commitment to the Roots
A discussion with Claudia Goldenbeld, one of the managing directors of the residential real estate company Vivawest, and Frederik Jaspert, partner at JSWD, about the new administrative building at the former Nordstern mine in Gelsenkirchen.
Ms. Goldenbeld, what were your goals with regard to the new administrative building?
First and foremost, we wanted to create attractive new workspaces for our employees. Our main headquarter building, the former Nordstern mine, and the neighboring rented spaces no longer offered sufficient capacity for employees working at this location. When you plan to spend a not insignificant amount of money in order to build an additional new administrative building, the challenge is—not least of all for our shareholders—to reach a good balance between economic efficiency and aesthetic architecture which fits us. However, I would say that we have been successful. Our roots are in housing construction for mine workers; for this reason, we are committed to our location in Gelsenkirchen and the building ensemble at the site of the former Nordstern mine, which visualizes our history. The supplemental new construction is not a foreign body, but rather blends into the ensemble at the Vivawest Campus harmoniously. I am very proud of that.
Mr. Jaspert, when you as an architect are faced with the challenge of designing a building in such a historical context, which creative forms of expression do you employ? What approach do you use in the course of a task which is a specific as this one?
Planning on a historical site or with historical existing buildings is a particular challenge. First of all, as opposed to the construction of a freestanding campus or company headquarters, the intensive negotiation with the existing architecture is in the foreground. The existing quarter is not just supposed to be extended; the new construction should integrate itself into the existing context in a natural and self-evident way. From our perspective, it is decisive that the entire area with new and old develops a force as a whole, that the individual components are not just good on their own. We worked intensively with the architecture, the existing scale, the orthogonally-shaped building volumes, the materiality and the colors in order to convey the character of industrial roughness through the new construction.
The new construction at Nordstern is however not just a simple adaptation of an existing building. On the contrary, you have transformed the existing buildings into a somewhat different vocabulary. What was your thinking behind this?
One essential idea was to work with the existing design typologies. So that the building could develop its own power and because, in our opinion, a counterpoint to the high Nordstern tower was needed, we decided to design an exceptionally clear structure and employ very homogenous materials and colors.
Ms. Goldenbeld, considering your responsible position, can you speak about aspects such as representativeness and beauty in the context of this construction without having the feeling that you need to apologize for it?
Oh yes, I most certainly can. The development of our Nordstern location met with great approval among our shareholders. We are collectively proud of this unique building. Everyone who comes to our main headquarters is impressed and positive; this was exactly what I wanted for our new building.
Mr. Jaspert, we spoke just a moment ago about the old, solitary facade of the former boiler house, which was protected by historical listing for a long time; in the end, it was demolished with the agreement of the historical protection office. How do you deal with a question like that as an architect?
These questions became superfluous during the multiple commission, since at that time the decision was made to demolish those walls. The facade was an important component in the strengthening of the space and therefore also contributed to the prestige value of the company. Through the new construction, we closed off the space again; it would be nice if, on the other side of the square, which is still empty, an architectural counterpoint could be built. Naturally, it’s painful in the first moment to see a piece of local history disappear. On the other hand, considering the conditions of the commission, it would have not been possible for us to incorporate the existing facade into a new building. The urbanistic and architectural clarity would have not been possible if we had preserved the existing boiler house.
It is essentially a question of perspective about historical protection as an institution, which is posed to us as a society time and again: How do we deal with history? How do we deal with our roots? Is it not doctrinaire that the bricks themselves are suddenly worth more than their capability?
The goal should be to find a good compromise. We need to preserve a piece, since it is related to our history, mining in the Ruhr area. The last mine closed in 2018. I think it’s just right that we have created so-called “lighthouse projects” here by lending these impressive buildings a new, meaningful use. However, it’s important not to become dogmatic. Here at Nordstern, we were able to preserve the majority of the mine buildings, but also create space for new development in order to look ahead. We need both sides: the roots and the future.
FJ: At the moment there is a trend towards using bricks. The re-emergence of building things which are made by hand and “unbreakable” surely plays a role in this trend. After a period with many experiments, we are now seeing a return to tried-and-true resources and materials. There are few materials which have as long a lifespan as bricks; from this perspective, the re-emergence seems understandable. Coming back to this project, we actually considered incorporating bricks into this building for a while. In the end, we settled on the second material which characterizes the campus: steel.
Is it a courageous thing to dare and move things forward? Would that be something that becomes us well?
I think that our way of looking needs to be broadened, that we need to break out of a certain narrowness. That can only happen if we learn from our experiences and allow new developments to happen. It is important that we not only remember, but also experiment. In other countries, that process surely happens much more intensely and to a greater degree; in Germany, we are relatively inflexible. Every architectural experiment is regarded with mistrust and suspicion.
You really got to the heart of the matter. I think “more courageous” is the right phrasing for this situation. In Germany, we have a high degree of inertia as a result of our cultural history. Plus, it is also more comfortable to look away instead of taking action.
Does architecture offer the possibility to convey these topics and potentially also a context in which to approach them?
I think architecture is always political to some degree and should also encourage discussion. There is no other art form which influences the environment and society in the way that architecture does. In that sense, architecture can make a large contribution to breaking out of old habits. Discussion doesn’t come from permanent repetition. Counterpoints are important to stoke up and fuel debates.
|Construction time / duration
Offices, Conference Center, Fitness
VIVAWEST Wohnen GmbH
Implementation planning + construction management: mo Architekten
"Auszeichnung vorbildlicher Bauten NRW 2020"
Gold „German Design Award 2022“
Nomination: „NIKE 2022“