Inspiration

Jacoby Studios

David Chipperfield Architects skilfully weaves a ruined monastery and modern office block together with light-toned concrete

At the Neues Museum in Berlin (CQ 227, Spring 2009), David Chipperfield Architects used concrete to turn historic restoration on its head. The bombed-out shell of the iconic 19th-century museum was not so much repaired as forged into something new, with unambiguous precast-concrete elements fusing past and present into a coherent whole. Now, in the northern German city of Paderborn, the practice has again done something similar – but rather than resurrecting a celebrated landmark, it has brought back a building that had vanished almost entirely from view. 

When Jacoby Studios, a supplier of DIY art and craft materials, bought the disused St Vincenz hospital, the intention was to clear the site and build a modern headquarters from scratch. The hospital dated back to the 17th century, when it had been a Capuchin monastery, but the only visible trace of this earlier use was the listed Baroque porch of the former chapel – and even this was concealed by render. The rest had been subsumed by 19th-century brick buildings and then, following considerable bomb damage in the Second World War, more render and a patchwork of uninspiring extensions.  

It was only when the architects started to explore more closely that they wondered whether more of the original structure survived than they had thought. A process of excavation began, with the post-war additions removed, render stripped from the 19th-century brickwork, roof structures demolished, and the inner building taken back to its 400-year-old limestone-rubble masonry. Behind the chapel porch, a more substantial ruin emerged: the walls of the chapel and sacristy, and a cloister beyond. And with it, a new plan began to form, with the monastic remains preserved as the heart of the new headquarters, flanked by balcony-fronted office wings to the east, west and north.

This is where concrete came in – once again forming the bridge between a fragmented past and the present day. “Concrete is the backbone of the new ensemble,” says Frithjof Kahl, associate at David Chipperfield Architects Berlin. “It connects the ruined structure with the new building parts.” Its wide-ranging performance characteristics, he adds, made it ideal for weaving a sense of continuity through the ruins and the modern offices, as it could be used for many different purposes. “After exposing the historic building fabric, we stabilised the structure with concrete. We used it for the loadbearing structure of the office wings, the inner exposed concrete walls and ceilings, for the prefabricated balcony elements and for the garden wall.”

The concrete insertions into the historic fabric are evident as soon as visitors step through the monastery porch. The walls of the chapel, now a roofless entrance courtyard, are braced at the far end by a large in-situ concrete beam, which also frames the foyer doors. Step through the doors and you encounter a scene reminiscent of the grand entrance to the Neues Museum: an imposing in-situ concrete staircase wraps around three sides of the two-storey foyer beneath exposed soffits. 

The concrete is given a sandy, mineral-like quality by its limestone aggregate, which echoes the limestone walls and lime mortar of the repointed brickwork. “It was important to us that the colour worked in harmony with the historic masonry,” says Kahl, “but at the same time, we wanted the concrete additions to be perceived as such.” The jointing is geometrically aligned and the lighting and other fittings minimal – the real stars here are the colours and textures of the existing brick and stonework.

The same, light-toned concrete dominates the interiors of the new blocks. The structural frame is based around 300mm-deep reinforced-concrete slabs, aligned to the pediment of the chapel facade, and 300mm2 perimeter columns. The columns and soffits are left exposed, again subtly chiming with the historic limestone, as well as offering an austere backdrop to the minimalist fit-out.

The soffits, which have a polished finish, are also integral to the low-energy heating and cooling system. Water from a neighbouring tributary of the river Pader, which holds a near-constant temperature, is used to generate energy by means of a heat pump. For cooling in summer, the concrete ceilings are activated. In winter, heat is supplied via an underfloor heating system. 

The new wings are wrapped in a self-supporting framework of 850mm-deep loggias, providing external space and shading to the offices within. These were constructed from precast concrete, designed to match the “light, friendly” tone of the in-situ elements. Horizontal slabs, 320mm-deep and 6m long, were structurally fixed to cross-columns of the same depth and up to 7.2m high. Glazing and timber facade panels were then inserted into this frame.

The materials are sharp and modern, giving a crisp, new identity to a formerly jaded part of Paderborn. But in so doing, Jacoby Studios has also brought a vanished past back to life. Rarely can a new development have done more to reconnect a city to a history that had been all but lost.

PROJECT TEAM

Architect David Chipperfield Architects Berlin
Executive architect Schilling Architekten
Structural engineer Gantert + Wiemeler Ingenieurplanung

Photos Simon Menges