Students of History
In Brunswick, Germany, a student center by DODK helps a university's dark past meet a brighter future
Mairi Beautyman -- Interior Design, 7/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
In 1937, architect Emil Herzig completed a cultural-studies department for what is now called the Technische Universität Carolo-Wilhelmina zu Braunschweig in the central German city that English speakers know as Brunswick. The term "cultural studies" actually meant promoting Nazi philosophy. Today, aside from educational functions, the U-shape brick complex is a historic landmark bearing witness to the horrors of that time.
A competition in 2005 invited architecture faculty to propose ideas for turning a two-story section, home to the admissions office, into a student center. Catering to a population of 15,000-plus undergraduates and graduates, the center would centralize services scattered across the campus: not just admissions but also international programs and academic and career guidance. The winners were a teaching assistant, Denise Dih, and Ole Klingemann, now principals of DODK Denise Dih Ole Klingemann. "From the outside, the brickwork had this expressionist beauty," Dih says. "Inside, it was dark and depressing." Now it's smart and welcoming. The rebirth began with bringing in more natural light. Removing a single-story extension, constructed in the 1970's, opened up one facade. And gutting the interior allowed DODK to replace two claustrophobic stories with a single airy one, plus a mezzanine, for a total of 4,100 square feet. Both levels enjoy sunshine from a row of 12 new windows almost 23 feet high. "Because the windows are really tall and slim, they tie in to the logic and massiveness of the exterior's brick pillars," Dih explains. Aluminum paneling around the windows contrasts with the existing brick nearby.
After passing through a sobering entry, with swastikas still visible on the iron radiators, students step through automatic sliding glass doors into an open service area. It's dominated by two gleaming white Corian-clad desks long enough to snake around the room's five structural columns. Outfitted with slender powder-coated task lamps, the desks provide 11 computer workstations, four self-service and seven manned by staff. A motorized system makes individual sections of the desks height-adjustable. "At first, we thought it would be impossible to get the technology under the base," Dih admits. "But it runs smoothly now."
Waiting takes place on round felt-upholstered seating islands, either gray or lime green. That green is the only bright color throughout. "It's confident, fresh, and friendly," Klingemann says. "We used it in a graphic, minimal way to create a contrast." Likewise, green abstract directionals, which look a bit like giant ginkgo leaves, are set into the gray rubber flooring. "The two-dimensional graphics went hand-in-hand with the architectural design process, and the result is a three-dimensional space," Klingemann says. Seen from above, the directionals create hexagons intersecting with the curved shapes of the desks, the islands, and the painted steel staircase to the mezzanine.
The service area's swooping ceiling is raw concrete, a material chosen for its authenticity. "If a place is over-designed, it can feel uncomfortable," Dih says. "The concrete looks like it's always been there. It fits with the building." Installation was tricky, with three huge segments cast on-site. To maintain the openness, the ceiling curves upward 5 feet short of the back window wall, becoming a balustrade for the level above.
"With all the concrete, plus the rubber floors, we had only hard surfaces—and therefore an acoustical problem," Dih says. So she and Klingemann turned to consultants who kept the noise at a comfortable hum by using a particleboard that's thin enough to vibrate for a perimeter wall and filling the cavities behind with mineral wool. Acoustical panels line the entire ceiling upstairs and the strips of wall between the rear windows.
Unlike the open service area, the mezzanine is organized by a corridor running the 80-foot length of the concrete balustrade. The same friendly lime-green rubber flows over the floor and a built-in bench. This shelflike perch is where students await appointments with advisers and one another in any of the four offices and two meeting rooms opposite. With their white stacking chairs and white tables, these simple rooms offer an optimistic outlook on the prospect of landing a postgraduation job as an architect or an engineer. Just as soon as the economy improves.
PROJECT TEAM HANS GOYDKE: ACOUSTICAL CONSULTANT. DR.-ING. PETER MARTENS UND DIPL.-ING. FRANK PULLER: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. INGENIEURBÜRO GIERKE PLANUNGSGESELLSCHAFT: MECHANICAL, PLUMBING ENGINEER. VETTERKIND METALLBAU; HEINRICH BRASCHE METALLBAU: METALWORK. RIGIPS: PLASTERWORK. MARKUS KRUSE HOCH- UND INGENIEURBAU: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT DUPONT: DESK MATERIAL (SERVICE AREA). ZUMTOBEL: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES (SERVICE AREA, HALL). ARTEMIDE: TASK LAMPS (SERVICE AREA, OFFICE). DORMA: CUSTOM DOOR (OFFICE). LOUIS POULSEN LIGHTING: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURE. SAMAS: CHAIRS, TABLES. HEY-SIGN: SEATING FABRIC (SERVICE AREA). GEZE: CUSTOM DOORS. THROUGHOUT SCHÜCO: CUSTOM WINDOWS. NORA SYSTEMS: FLOORING.