Arcadian assembly

Arcadian assembly – science park in Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Layla Dawson

In contrast to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century grimy and dense industrial environments the motto of IBA Emscher Park, International Exhibition of Architecture, is `Working in the Park’. In the middle of Gelsenkirchen, on what was previously Thyssen’s seven hectare cast steelworks, the Rheinelbe Science Park has been created with swathes of grass, trees, and an artificial lake. To the north of the park Thyssen’s administration building has been adapted for use as a courthouse for labour disputes, to the south and west there are plans for a circular conference centre and flats grouped together in detached villas. A kindergarten, also designed by Kiessler + Partner, is already in use in the south-east corner of the park. However, the centre piece and backbone of this assembly, running between courthouse and future conference centre, is a 300 m long glass arcade forming the west facade of a three-storey gallery building to which nine pavilions for research and development organisations are attached. While the public is free to use the park and walk through the arcade the business entrance is from the east with access to an underground car park. Uwe Kiessler’s impressive structure of glass and steel symbolises a turning point in the region’s economic development. The traditional, labour intensive, mechanical and fossil fuel based industries face cheaper competition from previously underdeveloped countries and thriving new computerised industries require less manpower. Official unemployment in Germany has risen to four million, almost 10 per cent of the working population, 13 per cent in the Ruhr region. Gelsenkirchen’s Rheinelbe Science Park is an attempt to revitalise Germany’s former industrial heartland by creating a seed bed for future orientated research and development institutions and private companies. While Uwe Kiessler’s building evokes memories of heroically proportioned industrial architecture, its function is to house organisations dealing in fuzzy logic, cable communications, multi-media data, futures research and solar energy.

Before anything could be built, traces of a redundant industry had to be cleared away and the ground itself decontaminated. Soil was dug up, heat treated, replaced and covered with loam. The new building cost 70 million DM for a total of 27 200 sqm and was completed in 1995. Uwe Kiessler, challenged by a tight budget, quoted Le Corbusier, `It is poverty which saves architecture’. Construction is unadorned reinforced concrete, steel, aluminium and timber, with the minimum of white painted plastered walls and clad ceilings in the gallery circulation areas. Elevations to the east use a 1.44 m repetitive modular unit comprising fixed glass, ventilation panel and french windows which open on to a continuous maintenance balcony. The nine pavilions and the long gallery provide 19 200 sqm of offices and laboratories. It is hoped that shops, bookshops, newsagents and restaurants will rent spaces along the internal boulevard to serve the building’s employees and attract the public but to date, with only 60 per cent of the pavilion space occupied, commercial interest has not been very encouraging. Meanwhile the space is used for temporary exhibitions. The arcade is climate controlled, 10 m wide, and the public concourse between work and park is protected in winter behind glass but in summer the lower row of panels each 7 m wide and 4.5 m high, as large as football goal mouths, along the length of the lake, can be opened up to the sky with electrically operated pulleys controlled by the building services computer.

A solar energy plant sponsored by the European Commission and claiming to be the largest in the world has been mounted on the roof. Rows of glass panels orientated towards the south and made up of 123 x 123 mm solar cells produce 200 000 kW annually which is fed into the national grid. Over its 30 years life expectancy 4500 tons of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere will be avoided. In the area of passive energy saving, heat won from the arcade facade is used to warm water and exposed concrete ceiling slabs double as heat storage elements. Insulation and the glasshouse effect means the energy input for space heating along the internal boulevard is 84.70 kWh/sqm, for the gallery accommodation 36 kWh/sqm, and 47.07 kWh/sqm for the pavilions, making up a total building energy use for space heating of 49.62 kWh/sqm, less than the 67 kWh/sqm stipulated in the brief. The building management computer operates external blinds and natural ventilation through rainproof flaps, backed up by smoke ventilators, and cuts off heating radiators positioned along the facade when windows or flaps are opened. Even the ornamental lake, used in summer as an open-air swimming pool, has a double function as rainwater reservoir.

Uwe Kiessler has said he took inspiration from Munich’s English Park and Friedrich von Sckell’s nineteenth-century greenhouse structures in Nymphenburg palace. With three major European awards, including the Bundesarchitektenkammer’s 1995 German Architecture Prize, the Rheinelbe Science Park has been recognised as a possible model for a user-friendly technological future. The concept, which looks both ahead and to the past in order to deal with the present, was only possible under the patronage of the IBA Emscher Park, a development organisation financed by the Land of North-Rhine Westphalia, which has initiated over 90 similarly visionary projects in the Ruhr region since 1989, all conceived as recycled and ecologically balanced environments for new relationships between home, work and leisure, industry and nature, production and waste, and built using the most innovative ideas and products available. Could private enterprise alone have marshalled the necessary resources and networked a series of employment, transport and financing programmes to achieve this goal? Unlike most commissioned architecture which deals with already known functions, the Rheinelbe Science Park is a form looking for new functions.

COPYRIGHT 1996 EMAP Architecture

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