15. April 2021
Identity and Culture
The Kulturbahnhof, which was opened in October 2020, is a beacon project for Aalen, a town in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. With great sensitivity, a+r Architekten have revived the location’s industrial history in the present.
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Aalen’s industrial history and the architecture of the twenty-first century are brought together in the new cultural centre Kulturbahnhof Aalen. a+r Architekten have succeeded in integrating the historical building fragments on the “Stadtoval” into contemporary architecture with great sensitivity and — at the request of the town of Aalen — in creating a place with supra-regional appeal.
The town of Aalen wanted a “beacon for culture and creativity” on the site now known as the Stadtoval, which was previously occupied by railroad tracks and later used by a construction steel company. Within the framework of this significant inner-city expansion, the Kulturbahnhof plays a central role: the building is not only intended to house the city’s diverse cultural institutions and catering facilities, but also to have a major radiant effect throughout the region.
After coming first in the restricted competition in 2015, a+r Architekten implemented the project between 2018 and 2020. The inauguration of the building in the northwest of Aalen's Stadtoval, which now accommodates a cinema, a theatre, the music school and high-quality function rooms for cultural events along with premises for catering, was celebrated from October 2-4, 2020.
For the architecture firm, which runs offices in Stuttgart and Tübingen, the building task posed “a challenge to create a harmonious whole from the existing building fragments and new elements.”
Following a fire in 2014, all the architects found were a number of historical groups of buildings, including the former railroad administration building and remains of the large hall of a former repair workshop. The existing industrial architecture constitutes an important structural document of railroad history in Aalen — these are the remains of typical local buildings with some striking characteristics, such as a sandstone façade and short side gables. “Our central idea was to carefully preserve this heritage and to further develop it into a forward-looking cultural centre for the twenty-first century,” explains Hellmut Schiefer, project manager and lead architect at a+r Architekten.
The extensively destroyed façade was replaced in a stylised way with coloured fair-faced concrete. Where possible, the architects sought to revive the historical character. For example, the sandstone façade was completed and repaired by stonemasons in the corresponding places. Due to the smoother surfaces of the new sandstone, the new components were deliberately left visible as such. The roofs of the short side gables were also rebuilt according to the historical design. The longitudinal gable, by contrast, was treated quite differently: a+r Architekten replaced it by an elongated, cuboid-shaped volume clad in folded perforated plate, thus creating a spatial reference to the urban edges of the neighbourhood bordering to the south. “In contrast to the historical sandstone façade with its ornamental craftsmanship and massive appearance, the superimposed cuboid is plain and restrained. The semi-transparent perforated sheet façade allows the cuboid's volume to shine through, creating associations with a cloth-like curtain and contemporary industrial architecture,” the project manager describes the design concept.
The historical façade provides the shell of a generous space. New boxes were placed inside this completely gutted space, zoning it for different uses. These boxes also support and stiffen the new load-bearing structure. The large halls and public uses are located in the old building. The music school and the theatre workshops are housed in the new, cuboid-shaped volume built on top. These rooms “serving” cultural production and education symbolically arch over the show stages for the culturally interested public. An important aspect for the architects was to use historical components such as materials, windows and a visible roof construction to create an authentic and independent ambience for the different cultural venues. “The entire material and design concept is based on the idea of interrelating the industrial architectures of the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries in a variety of ways,” explains Hellmut Schiefer.
In addition, pragmatic aspects come into effect: in the opinion of the town of Aalen, a shared building for the diverse cultural venues, which were previously spread across several locations, should contribute to optimising resources, pooling synergies and ensuring cost savings in the long term.
Stuttgart/Tübingen, April 2021
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a+r Architekten stand for solid, environmentally compatible and future-oriented architecture with impressive expertise in the field of sustainable building — also in existing building contexts. Founded in 1985 by Professor Gerd Ackermann and Professor Hellmut Raff, the office with branches in Stuttgart and Tübingen has around 100 employees and is today headed by Professor Hellmut Raff, Oliver Braun, Florian Gruner, Alexander Lange and Walter Fritz. a+r Architekten mainly build for public clients, industry and commerce, municipal housing companies and social institutions. The office focuses on appropriate, ecological, functional and the resulting innovative construction methods and has been awarded prestigious prizes for this approach: most recently, DAM Prize 2020, Exemplary Construction Award 2020 by the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Architects, “best architects 2020” and first place in the Competitionline Ranking 2019/20 as the most successful competition office in German-speaking countries.
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