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'City Varieties' Civic centre by Jürgen Mayer H (Ostfildern, Germany)

City Varieties: An unusual mix of uses and architectural ingenuity make this municipal building both dramatic and popular

In 25 minutes the Stadtbahn whisks you from Stuttgart s main station to the southern hilly outskirts. Here is an almost rural landscape with belts of green generously spread between and in front of the houses. Amid this pastoral idyll is Scharnhauser Park, the newly designed centre for the community of Ostfildern, with its population of up to 10,000 new inhabitants.

Ten years ago the 140 hectare site was occupied by the US army’s Nellingen Barracks, but now there are few reminders of that past. The town’s new Stadthaus” by Berlin architect Jürgen Mayer H, forms part of an urban masterplan by Janson and Wolfrum from Stuttgart.

Encouraged by the city elders, they created an area of urban experimentation which advocates alternative forms of housing and building. Along these lines the name ‘Stadthaus’ could be interpreted as a pun on the English town hall with overtones of the German ‘Rathaus’. In other words, this is new and experimental territory.

The first sight of the Stadthaus confirms the sense that something out of the extraordinary has taken place. A sharp edged, clean cut, massive sculptural monolith inclined 5 degrees towards the east is implanted in the middle of a vast piazza. Kaaba-like, with cream and dark brown horizontal bands and rows of black windows indicating the four main floors, the building dominates its surroundings of brick and terracotta clad facades.

At night, a field of 14m high black masts illuminates the plaza with skinny strips of fibre-optic cable. On the west side, a canopy cantilevers out 8m along the building’s entire length. This artificial sky, 14m above the entrance, disgorges orchestrated emissions of water (several programmes are available, from ‘rain beams’ to ‘sinus drops’) and glows seductively at night.

Animated by,its special effects, the brooding mass of this enigmatic building is a source of provocation and mystification ‘to both passersby and visitors. With round the clock access, citizens come in their thousands to take advantage of the Stadthaus’ impressive range of municipal and cultural services.

The local art gallery on the ground and lower ground floor shares the entrance level with the public library and citizens’ advice bureau. The adult education centre, music school, social services department, registry office, meeting rooms and administration offices occupy thethree remaining upper floors.

Structurally and visually, the central staircase in the rectangular atrium dominates the interior. As an unusual mix of uses and architectural ingenuity make this municipal building both dramatic and popular visitors rise through the building, each floor is covered in differently coloured rubber to match the hues of the aluminium panels on the facade. The stark impression of the in-situ concrete walls, with their precisely punched openings in the atrium walls, and the steel and glass surfaces of the large-scale lighting elements enhance the pervading impression of discipline’d geometry.

Yet despite this rigour, spaces and elements, such as the staircase, are generously proportioned and bathed in a cool neon light augmented by natural daylight filtering down from the enormous atrium roof. The stairhall itself leans five degrees to the north-west; a 90 degree turn on the building’s main eastern inclination.

In Kubrick’s film 2001, a black monolith symbolizes mankind’s journey of knowledge andculminates in a brightly lit interior with Louis XIV furniture : Mayer’s building incorporates similar stylistic contrasts: the art gallery fluorescent ceiling and the undersides of the cases are clearly contemporary, but the general brown colour scheme and golden draped registry office allude to the 1970s. Throughout, detailing is fastidiously minimal, but some details pay playful homage to data avalanches and the joys of administration - for instance, the incredibly dense (and hence illegible) number codes printed on carpets or on ventilation grids.

It is a virtuoso play with perception of space, colour, texture and stylistic memory. With this unusual civic centre, Jürgen Mayer H has achieved the impossible and transformed the traditional experiential tristesse of administrative architecture. The endless monotony of corridors and doors has disappeared.

Architect Jürgen Mayer H, Berlin
Project team Jürgen Mayer. Andre SanteI’. Sebastian Finckh. Christoph Zeller
Associate architect Uli Wiesler
Structural engineer Muller + Muller
Mechanical engineer Wetzstein
Landscape consultant Klaus Wiedkehr
Rubber floor Freudenberg Noraplan
Light switches GIRA
Photographs David Franck

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