Described by one state secretary as a gateway to the world, the winner of leading architecture awards and hailed a ‘real win’ by one Lord Mayor, Kottenforst campus wanted its architecture to add value and make some sort of contribution in educational terms. It appears to have done precisely that. This is a project that is well worth a second look.
The owner of the building on the campus in Kottenforst is the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) – an education provider whose main customer is the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Before sending students out to work on projects in all corners of the globe, the GIZ provides an education in economic and employment development, energy and the environment, and the promotion of peace and security.
Its area of competence thus lies in intercultural training, as well as specialist knowledge relating to business, science and politics. This is a complex educational backdrop for adult education. For an architectural firm briefed with erecting a new building for such an organisation, this raises a variety of questions. Can an indoor area help develop educational potential? What expectations does an educational building have to meet? And how does one strike the right balance with the building layout between the demands of different disciplines, the learning culture and knowledge sharing?
Furthermore, the project should be exemplary in terms of sustainability, also to underpin the credibility and philosophy of the educational remit.
The ‘rhythmic’ arrangement of learning areas
The pitch was won in 2014 by architects Waechter + Waechter from Darmstadt, who aimed to identify “an architecture language that expresses the restlessness of learning – the continuous quest, reflection, wild exploration, curiosity, looking in all directions – yet despite all, a language that does this with discipline, based on system and order.”
The design they came up with created ‘rhythmic arrangements’ by organising section-like modules of space into a cluster of open learning areas. This division of space was based on a construction grid formed by two shapes: a square area measuring 5.25 x 5.25 metres, extended by a narrower, rectangular variant measuring 3.50 x 5.25 metres. The two-storey building modules are rounded off in vertical terms by tent-like roofs.
To design a ground plan for the building, the architects created a kind of timber skeleton. The two-storey building is situated in a forest area, so the façade should reflect this with a natural wooden appearance. The building interior is also fitted with white varnished wood and burnished terrazzo to create a welcoming atmosphere.
Places to learn that act as places to live
In the 20th century, teaching moved further and further away from face-to-face lessons in stern environments. Modern concepts often place emphasis on dynamic learning and motivation. This is a good match with the vibrant cubic atmosphere of the new building. Its bright interior offers immediate appeal, paying homage to the multi-dimensional nature of teaching and learning processes.
But as well as appealing to its occupants, the new edifice also performs above average in terms of sustainability. The building was awarded a gold certificate and scored outstandingly for its life cycle assessment (LCA). Room temperature is regulated without any use whatsoever of (partially) halogenated refrigerants. It also uses timbers and wooden materials, 99.65% of which were sourced from sustainable forestry.
The icing on the cake: flexibility
To ensure the building is constructed in keeping with sustainability principles, apart from ensuring it offers 100% accessibility, it was particularly important to consider versatility and adaptability. A crucial aspect of this is the energy strategy, and the technical building equipment has to be adaptable to different usages. “The biggest challenge was to integrate the energy-saving concept into the building structure,” explain Sibylle and Felix Waechter, “so it was particularly important that each grid area could be controlled individually to allow different zones to be used as flexibly as possible and allow occupants to play around with the building.”
To achieve this, the architects arranged all fixed elements relating to the technical equipment down the middle of the building to form central ‘tower points’ (areas housing vertical cables). These were apportioned to individual usage modules and kept separate for fire protection reasons. “Each area of the grid can be managed separately using automatic controls, so if they want to separate the rooms differently in the future, the building won’t need complicated conversions affecting the building technology,” say the architects. “This makes it possible to keep using the building sustainably in the future and tune this sustainability to the future needs and requirements of the particular training or education concept.”
Bonn – the capital city of sustainability?
For Dr Joachim Stamp, deputy minister-president of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and a minister responsible for children, families, refugees and integration, the sustainable features of the building somehow even return Bonn to a role it relinquished in the past. Marking the official opening of the building, the politician said: “The Kottenforst campus is declaring its belief in Bonn as the German capital city of sustainability and development cooperation.”