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Competition: Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

An international ideas contest has been launched to regenerate Frei Otto’s iconic Mannheim Multihalle (Deadline: 15 February)

The anonymous competition is open to students, graduates and young architects. It seeks visionary proposals to transform the iconic 1975 exhibition hall into an experimental new sports, leisure and cultural complex for the south-west German city.

The ‘Democratic Umbrella’ call for concepts aims to generate a range of potential options for the unique gridshell-roofed temporary building which was originally built for the Federal Garden Show but is now in need of urgent restoration.

The Mannheim Multihalle in 1975, Germany

The Mannheim Multihalle in 1975, Germany

Source: Image by Archive Frei Otto

The Mannheim Multihalle in 1975, Germany

According to the brief: ‘Frei Otto’s visionary concept for utilisation of the Multihalle is to be updated as an experimental urban laboratory and open space for an open society where Mannheim’s citizens can come together for sports, leisure and cultural activities, and to thereby establish the basis for a social laboratory in which pioneering methods and forms of urban coexistence can be developed and explored.

‘The Multihalle’s roof construction should not only provide the necessary setting for this visionary use, but also symbolise the idea of a “Democratic Umbrella” in public perception through its iconographic architecture. The objective of this competition is therefore to design new utilisation options for the Multihalle and to express these through its architecture.’

The Mannheim Multihalle was built by Frei Otto and Arup as a temporary pavilion for Germany’s 1975 Federal Garden Show. The structure in Mannheim’s Herzogenriedpark – originally conceived by architects Carlfried Mutschler and Joachim Langner – features a 9,500m² timber gridshell roof inspired by the ideas of Russian polymath Vladimir Shukhov.

The historic venue – which Otto considered his ‘boldest building’ – was listed in 1998 but closed to the public eight years ago due to water ingress. A multi-million euro restoration is now required and Mannheim city hall has committed to agreeing a way forward for the building later this year.

The interior of the Mannheim Multihalle is now closed to the public

The interior of the Mannheim Multihalle is now closed to the public

Source: Image by Daniel Lukac

The interior of the Mannheim Multihalle is now closed to the public

The latest competition is organised by Multihalle Mannheim e.V. Association with the Association of German Architects in Baden-Württemberg and the International Building Exhibition Heidelberg. Backers include the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Architects and the City of Mannheim.

The call for concepts aims to generate sustainable and viable options to convert the 44-year-old structure into a sports, leisure and cultural complex. Proposals should feature a large foyer and function room which can be subdivided, offices, workshop rooms, performance studios, catering and leisure facilities.

Submissions may be in English or German. The overall winner, to be announced in March, will receive €10,000 and may also be invited to work on the restoration project if it goes forward. A second prize of €7,000, third prize of €4,000 and two honorable mentions of €1,500 each will also be awarded.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 23.59 local time (CET) on 15 February

Contact details


View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Tatjana Dürr

The City of Mannheim architect discusses her ambitions for the competition

Why are your holding an international ideas contest to rethink the future of the Multihalle in Mannheim?

The idea of an international competition is based both on the unabated international interest in the project since the beginning of the re-identification process with the Multihalle – no doubt due to Frei Otto being a Pritzker Prize winner – and on the topicality of Frei Otto’s ideas. To quote Georg Vrachliotis: ‘Frei Otto saw, in his models, cultural indicators whose meaning extends beyond the purely physical haptics of the individual object and should be understood as experimental symbols for an open society. The Multihalle embodies this like no other 20th century building.’

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

Source: Image by Immanuel Giel

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

Where did the idea for the contest come from?

The idea came from our cooperation partners – the Baden-Württemberg Chamber of Architects and the Association of German Architects in Baden-Württemberg – who also support the project in collaboration with the Multihalle Mannheim e.V. Association.

Is a contest like this the best way to approach this challenging issue and to promote new design talent?

Such an architectural competition guarantees a maximum variety of possible solutions, with the participants competing to offer the best possible quality. The explicit opening of the competition to masters students, graduates and young architects aims to inspire a demographic shift of social responsibility towards a younger generation of architects. Ideally, the winner of the ideas competition should be implemented without a subsequent realisation competition, thus giving young talents a concrete opportunity to realise a built project and gain a profile in connection with Frei Otto.

Why are you keen for local, national and international participation?

The ‘Democratic Umbrella’ concept recognises the Multihalle as potential platform for an open society and a forward-looking, resilient public space – such as is currently being established and demanded in cities all over the world. It’s all about developing new forms of public spaces – in liveable cities – that promote people’s economic and social well-being and can be used flexibly.

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

Source: Image by Hubert Berberich

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

What is your vision for how the Multihalle could be transformed?

The renovation of the Multihalle’s iconographic roof construction opens up possibilities beyond cultural re-identification for a long-term establishment of the Multihalle as an urban laboratory for sports and other activities, neighbourhood initiatives, international political, cultural and urban planning discourse, and for developing innovative answers to the questions relating to future urban life.

This iconic architecture should be used to provide the setting for visionary uses and to symbolise the idea of a ‘Democratic Umbrella’ in the public mind. The aim of the competition is to create an architectural platform for an interdisciplinary utilisation programme. Proposed uses should be both permanent and temporary, and also offer room for future options.

How big is the contest site and what are the potential constraints?

Depending on the concept, structural interventions may be proposed not only under the ‘roof’ but also covering the surrounding outdoor facilities.

How important will design innovation and quality be to the end result?

Innovation is naturally a huge priority, particularly in view of Frei Otto being a Pritzker Prize winner.

Are sustainable issues an important part of the brief?

Sustainability also plays a huge role, in view of Frei Otto’s initial intentions and goals –not forgetting compliance with current environmental regulations, of course.

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

Source: Image by Hubert Berberich

The Mannheim Multihalle, Germany

Do international teams need to collaborate with local firms to apply?

No, not in this ideas competition.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The city of Mannheim plans to redevelop the area surrounding the Multihalle – delivering changes to Herzogenriedpark, extending the neighbouring public swimming baths, and improving urban connections to the nearby Messplatz – possibly also through a competition.

Are there any other recent historic venue conversion projects you have been impressed by?

No specific conversion projects come to mind, but Jürgen Mayer’s Parasol in Seville is an inspiration.


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