Brönnerstrasse 22, Frankfurt am Main
Replacing contrast with masonry
The straightforward-sounding remit for the new-build venture at Brönnerstraße 22 was to extend a Wilhelminian house in inner Frankfurt into its backyard. What made the task anything other than easy was the unusual nature of the existing backyard. Rather than being closed off at the back, the yard opened up towards the adjoining cemetery for the church of St. Peter’s. This is the oldest Christian burial ground in the city. A fittingly picturesque cemetery wall bordering the area being infilled features several fine mounted gravestones and does, of course, enjoy listed conservation status.
Nicole Kerstin Berganski and Andreas Krawczyk, partners in the NKBAK practice commissioned to build the extension, initially intended to contextualise the listed wall by setting a clear contrast between it and the materials they used. The conservation authority opposed this, however. The design finally put to effect was hit upon during discussions between the two parties. It sees itself as being a continuation of the natural-stone cemetery wall, out of which a brick façade can be said to organically rise up. “Anyone building with brick”, Andreas Krawczyk argues, “has got to take stone seriously”. Which is what the architects have done, laying bricks in no fewer than three different formats for their facades.
The upshot is a cubic structure into which a variety of ashlars have been incorporated and whose multi-coloured, hand-moulded bricks create a great sense of vibrancy. The rhythm engendered by the range of masonry types laid serves to determine the size and location of the windows. Instead of enclosing the yard with a rear building set crosswise on the edge of the plot, the architects have taken the liberty of factoring the entire yard into their design deliberations. A living landscape of intermeshing internal and external spaces now populates the former backyard.
Architect and Building
Photo: ©Vanessa Fuentes
“Notwithstanding the very complex point of departure, i.e. a listed cemetery wall and a poorly accessible plot”, enthuses Robert Volhard, founder and manager of Stylepark, “it’s a most marvellous building that has taken shape here. The various external surfaces have been retained and they significantly enhance the quality of life and work on the site.”
The interesting thing is that the structure in no way blocks off the existing external spaces. All open spaces have been retained, albeit it in metamorphosized form. The cubic ensemble generates two intimate new courtyards that make for superb lighting conditions in the interior spaces, as well as facilitating two roof terraces at first- and second-storey level - a point that assured the design implemented a place amongst the five finalists for the 2020 DAM Prize. The issue of whether infill construction in inner cities can be achieved without sacrificing green spaces or social places is, after all, one of the most pressing of our age given how scarce housing is in our major cities.
Each of the two upper floors of the building houses a flat. The spaces on the ground floor, meanwhile, serve the commissioning party, the Stylepark architecture and design magazine, as its new office spaces. These are connected to the offices on the raised ground floor in the older building via a single-storey link. All spaces are characterised by openness, the structuring role played by walls being kept to a minimum. Instead, zoning is brought about by means of differences in height brought about by steps or platforms. This fosters a sense of spatial continuity which, whilst offering a variety of atmospheres, does not commit itself to specific uses.
Choice objects tend to hold sway on a design magazine’s premises. Take the many-armed ceiling luminaire that hovers through the atmosphere like a shoal of jellyfish dangling on slender threads. The spaces nevertheless give the impression of being focused on essentials. Cupboards such as those in the fitted kitchen in the coffee area have no handles. The FSB handles on windows and doors “support the architecture from the wings without taking themselves too seriously”, as the architects put it. They opted for FSB’s 1144 model, which they describe as being warm, sleek and flattering. It has been fitted in Stainless Steel due to the material’s haptic credentials and durability.
Photos: ©Thomas Mayer