Stadthaus Bonn

Project

As the former capital of West Germany, Bonn is one of many European cities faced with the question of how to reurbanise itself. But what do we mean when we talk about reurbanisation? In our work we interpret »reurbanisation« as the endeavor to reintegrate the functionally segregated city and the coexistences within it that have been lost as a result.

In Bonns’ topographical and administrative heart lies the »Stadthaus« [City Hall]. Unique in its dimension, presence, history and density the Stadthaus crowns the Bonner skyline with its stalwart quintet of mono-functional high rises. Forty years after completion, it represents an ideological failure in Bonn’s Post-War urban zeitgeist and an aesthetic blight for the city’s residents who clamor for its demolition. Precisely because of this position, the Stadthaus has developed into a building block which has the potency to either reestablish an equilibrium within Bonn’s urban fabric or be demolished entirely.

As students of Architecture, the Stadthaus provoked both aversion and fascination, and we became immediately invested in its reinvention. It is located at one of the most prominent points in the city plan, namely directly on the east-west axis separating the South and North parts of the city and fractures the high-traffic Oxfordstraße. The frame we defined for the project dealt with the existing architecture of the Stadthaus, and its adjoining urban contexts. Our approach to the project was to develop an architectural program which achieved integrity between physical exterior and internal mentality. We always strive, with varying degrees of success, to create concepts that are an inevitable development of their context. To aid this approach, we developed a vocabulary with which to define the project and its potential. In the case of the Stadthaus, Richard Sennett’s notion of Ville and Cité or, physical quality versus urban mentality as well as Aldo Rossi’s theory of urban “collective memory” provided parameters for the project.

The Stadthaus’ mere presence in Bonn is temporally distorted by its ideological points of reference, the automobile-centric city or the Le Corbusian ideal. It was thus intuitive for us to pause these idealogical functions and modify them on the basis of the existing building. Thereby transforming both its physical materiality as well as integrating new typologies. By positing a rerouting of Bonn’s central traffic artery, the Oxfordstraße, the Stadthaus is enthroned on a new context to which it can react. By reframing the Stadthaus, as a stage, workshop, and home for human coexistence, the Stadthaus in return provides a potent framework for a multivalent urban future that builds on Bonn’s history.

Interview

What prompted the project?

Through a shared interest in the intersection between city planning and architecture, we became fascinated by the Stadthaus’s role as an architectural player in Bonn due to its radical modern stance and juxtaposition to Bonn’s historic city center. The interaction of society and the built environment presents an interesting challenge. Does our way of life shape the landscape of the city to meet our expectations and desire for a communal, urban life? Or does the city’s landscape, as a growing agglomeration, shape the way we live together? We are still searching for satisfactory answers to these questions, particularly in reference to a city like Bonn. When developing a new urban concept, it was helpful to maintain a critical distance from the city and its inhabitants. Not only were we interested in developing an architectural concept for the Stadthaus we were interested in improving the quality of the surrounding neighborhood. This aspect was something we wished define through a denser urban program where the new Stadthaus could function simultaneously as a house, stage, and workshop. Yet we were, also interested in renewing the qualities of the Stadthaus through the eyes of the simple flâneur, the city dweller on an aimless weekend stroll to find the perfect city square. In our eyes, the Stadthaus has the potential to reactivate the city quarter as well as be a magnet for future city flâneurs!

What informed the documentary fashion through which you approached the research and documentation of the site? How important was photography as a means to document the essence of the building?

The Stadthaus is a public building so as a consequence we were aware that it has been subject to a significant amount of debate in Bonn because of its size and the original construction costs, which courted controversy from its inception. As a result, we were encouraged to document the site from the perspective of the general public due to the large quantity of material that we were able to find through newspaper articles and television reports. Because of this wealth of material, much of our time was spent simply organizing it and publishing it online. We intended to neutrally reintroduce the Stadthaus through this documentation of our project to create a dialogue with the citizens of Bonn. The sheer complexity of the building did not make this process easy. Through our photographic exploration of the Stadthaus, we developed a catalog of perspectives and scales that enabled us to more deeply explore the building’s dilapidated yet charismatic physical state. By framing the building through different viewpoints, we documented its relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods.

How did you translate your observations and ideas into a design proposal? What role did the drawing play in the development and articulation of the project?

We proceeded through a process of distillation. After an initial analysis phase consisting of not only looking at the site itself but also at similar projects in Europe, we created a series of guidelines in a pamphlet format. In this initial phase, we identified the potentials for reintegrating the Stadthaus as well as an overarching theory of urban coexistence in the city. Building on the foundation of the pamphlet we built as many different design models as possible. This allowed us to compare different variations for the site. The design process was one of constant assessment and rejection as combined ideas and solutions that resonated for us as a team until we were confident that the design model was optimized in its architectural form and zoning. The next level of detail consisted of sketching the first floor plans. The detailed drawing enabled us to grasp the vast complexity of the building in its variations between each unique structure that is part of the whole….

What informed the use of the plan as main projection through which to reveal the intervention?

Because of the Stadthaus’s unusual stature in comparison to its neighbors, we analyzed each of the Stadthaus’ stories in the context of its environs. Above a certain height, the Stadthaus does not have any neighboring buildings, so the intervention at this level is not compelled to react to contextual factors. In the lower levels, however, the intervention had to react to a multiplicity of factors that varied by each story. As a result, we had to generate quite a few very different programs which reveal the nature of our intervention through the sheer number of plans required to reprogram such a vertical structure. In total, the plans allow for a more complete understanding of the building in coupling with the section cut. Each plan tells the unique story of each stories relating to the urban environment around it.

What role does the model play in relation to the drawing? How do these two operate singularly and together?

Model making plays an important role. The different dimensional volumes and scales are a lot easier to communicate especially for somebody who is not familiar with architectural drawings. In addition, an architectural model is always something sensual. While the drawing plays a major role in the actual design of the building, the model can give an idea of all aspects of the project. Finally, the model helps to orientate the viewer in relation to the drawings by also showing neighboring buildings and topographical differences. To understand the external factors that impact the project, we used models. The drawings as a result reveals the details of the inner world or interior experience.

Did you ever think of using media as a means to speculate on the project in the future? What were your objectives when deciding to construct a website for the project?

Media is a definitive part of our project as a means to communicate our intervention. With the website, our goal was to further integrate multiple forms of media. It was important for us as well that the website remains intuitive enough for every user. This meant that much of the media, be it video, photographs, graphics, or text, are presented in such a way that they create a cohesive narrative for the entire project. By strolling through the website we hope each visitor becomes invested in changing the Stadthaus and developed an understanding for its potential.

What is your take on the power of digital platforms and the way they are able to approach and disseminate architecture and its discourse?

We designed a website for our project to make it easily accessible and to preserve the content, for the long-term. Furthermore, digital platforms are able to provoke ample and instant public reactions. Albeit, it is not easy to have an objective debate online. Another advantage to the digital environment is »hyperlinking«, which gives us the ability to quickly contextualize external projects or similar topics. This can lead to a broader knowledge in terms of current architectural debates and enrich the discourse.

https://atelierjam.de/Stadthaus-Bonn

What is for you the architect’s most important tool?

An essential tool for any architect is to be public-spirited and to always engage in a direct dialogue with the community they work in.

About

atelierJAM is a studio working within the fields of sustainable architecture and urbanism, founded by Jakob Krauss, Alexander Jerosch-Herold, and Micha Kretschmann. For the past four years, we have worked on a variety of academic projects together at the Alanus Hochschule in Bonn Germany, where we received our Bachelor degrees. We are currently interning at different organizations in Mako Senegal and Stuttgart Germany; before we continue with our studies next year.

#Interviews