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From Berlin to the wider world: Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch have been two of Germany’s leading architects for many years. They got to know each other in London and have shared a practice in Berlin since 1991. They most recently completed two major new-build projects for education and culture, the Experimenta Science Centre in Heilbronn and Museum M9 in Mestre. FSB met them in their Berlin practice to discuss houses as exhibits and the joy they feel when their architecture is well-received.
Your new building for the Experimenta Science Centre in Heilbronn was recently opened, right on cue for the start of the Federal Garden Exhibition (BUGA) being held there. What role will Experimenta play in urban planning for Heilbronn?
Matthias Sauerbruch: Our client is the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, a body that invests in education. This explains why the Foundation built an education campus with three different colleges in Heilbronn, where Dieter Schwarz hails from. And Experimenta is, as it were, the point of entry to this campus. The idea is to playfully familiarise the young with science and technology here.
Louisa Hutton: Experimenta stands near the railway station, on a former industrial island on the River Neckar. This area of the city was earmarked for renovation – in conjunction with the BUGA event.
Matthias Sauerbruch: Heilbronn became an important industrial location in the 19th century and was dubbed “the Liverpool of Baden-Württemberg”. The city was practically razed to the ground in World War Two, only to be rapidly rebuilt along rather pragmatic lines – a car-friendly city, fragmented and intermixed. The region has been undergoing structural change for some time now, giving rise to brown-field sites that need to be redefined.
Your new building is sited opposite a period structure renovated some years ago. Is there a connection there?
Matthias Sauerbruch: Definitely in terms of urban composition. They are roughly of equal size and combine to create an attractive entrance area. The route from the city, past the station, passes through this space. To one side stands a rational warehouse building with a clinker façade from the 1930s, to the other our own, more sculptural and expressive building. Like a pas de deux for two buildings. They may not touch, but they certainly generate plenty of creative tension.
Experimenta doesn’t look like a typical Sauerbruch Hutton building.
Matthias Sauerbruch: The client set great store by having the building evolve out of its underlying function. Which is why, for our competition entry, we developed the fundamental idea of a spiralling route – the spatial spiral. It leads upwards through the structure and allows visitors to experience an alternation between introverted and extroverted perspectives. There are enclosed spaces in which a variety of theme worlds are staged. And then there is a sensational view out over the city.
Louisa Hutton: We establish links in this way with the city centre, the surrounding countryside and the vineyards. And with the BUGA event of course. Visitors glide diagonally through a panorama of Heilbronn.
The structural core is also conspicuous.
Matthias Sauerbruch: The building’s core consists of a complex steel structure designed to facilitate the spiralling effect. A small number of end-to-end columns combine with a system of horizontal beams from which hanging columns are suspended. We were intent on rendering this core visible to visitors, because we regard the building as a kind of large-format exhibit.
Louisa Hutton: The sense of space was to be airy and unforced. The building wasn’t to have a heavy feel about it.
Museum M9 in Mestre, on the mainland of Venice, was completed a few months ago. This is likewise a project given over to urban regeneration.
Matthias Sauerbruch: Yes, that’s true, though there are also major differences. In Mestre it is a case of a traditional Italian city with its squares, streets and outdoor life.
Louisa Hutton: The project is located in an inner-city district near the cathedral. A monastery once stood here, whereafter it served military purposes. The block had been closed off to the public for more than a century. We wanted to create new routes through the district so as to enable people to negotiate it – in both a diagonal and an East-West direction. The principal planning aim was to recreate the urban fabric on a smaller scale, which is why we divided the museum building into two units in order to have space for linking routes.
Also of importance is the question as to what other services are to be found near the museum. The district is made for the citizens of Mestre, after all. There are now cafés and restaurants, and a bookshop has already opened. The fan shop for a local football club, a toy shop – straightforward city life, basically.
Matthias Sauerbruch: Mestre has the same problems as many other communities. Though the market is very vibrant, there are large shopping centres on the city’s outskirts. Our project aims to help keep people, especially the young, in the centre. A co-working space will be opening shortly in the period building next to the museum building for this reason.
Louisa Hutton: When I’m there, I’m really moved by the use the citizens of Mestre make of the district. They cycle through it, take their dogs for walks in it, drink a cup of coffee and converse. Regardless of whether they visit the museum or not. Our mission to create new urban space has been fulfilled. That’s fantastic!