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Diakonie Church and Nursing Home by Baumschlager Eberle, Düsseldorf, Germany

The simple and sober architecture of the new Church and nursing home unassumingly slip into Düsseldorf’s existing cityscape. Photography by Eduard Hueber

Diakonie is a social welfare arm of the Protestant church in Germany, providing pastoral care for those in physical hardship or mental distress. It also focuses on the causes of suffering, promoting social justice and tolerance.

Assistance is offered to all, regardless of faith (or indeed, the existence of faith). On an urban site in Düsseldorf, one of Germany’s most affluent cities, architecture practice Baumschlager Eberle was asked to design a new social care campus for the local Diakonie. The Austrian partnership was appointed following a competition in 2004.

Two new buildings comprising a church and nursing home for 90 people replace an existing facility in a residential part of the city. The simple, sober architecture of this project is typical of Baumschlager Eberle’s precisely calibrated distillations of form and materials. Characteristic of a now established generation of German-speaking Swiss and Austrian architects, the practice’s work is distinguished by an undemonstrative yet tectonically lucid spirit. Though perhaps more familiar for its skill in using timber, in this instance brick - a long, thin, almost Roman brick - is brought into play with equal assurance and sensitivity.

Looking as though they had always been there, the two new buildings slip carefully and unassumingly into Düsseldorf’s cityscape.

In formal terms, the blocks are obviously siblings, with chiselled facades of rust and violet-hued clinker brick that give them a delicately flecked, almost tweedy countenance. Yet functionally they are quite different, ministering to the competing needs of body and soul. The four-storey nursing home is a U-shaped block set parallel with the surrounding streets. But as if to emphasise its more exalted place in civic life, the five-storey cube of the church is placed at an angle to it, subtly dislocating the orthogonal regularity of the urban grain and creating a wedge-shaped parvis around its entrance.

Wrapped in a hermetic brick skin, the church is essentially a tall, tranquil box, reminiscent of a traditional basilica, its white walls softly washed with light. The deep coffered ceiling admits indirect daylight through clerestory slots and artificial illumination can also be regulated to orchestrate different moods. Adorned with the bare minimum of Christian iconography, this neutral space could be seen as a contemporary interpretation of the spare, functional Protestant churches of northern Europe.

Nonetheless, for both individual contemplation and collective worship, a calm sense of the numinous prevails. To the rear are floors of meeting rooms and offices, reinforcing the church’s social and campaigning role in the wider community.

With the nursing home, a key aim was to dissipate the depressingly familiar feeling of being marooned in an anonymous institution. The 90 bedrooms are arranged over three floors and divided into semi-autonomous residential units. Each serves 15 people with a communal living room and kitchen. Supported in this way, residents choose how to live their lives.

The bedrooms occupy the two wings of the U-shaped plan, with the communal facilities arranged in the linking bar. Rooms are double banked off central spinal corridors; those on the inside overlook a peaceful landscaped courtyard. At ground level, small shop and café units animate the public realm, giving something back to the life of the city.

As with all Baumschlager Eberle’s work, the architecture appears deceptively modest, yet it in its thoughtful interaction of the sacred with the social, it dignifies and uplifts both the people it serves and its wider surroundings.

Architect Baumschlager Eberle, Lochau, Austria
Project team Michael Gondert, Roman Österle, Jürgen Stoppel
Structural engineer Weischede, Hermann & Partner
Landscape architect KuBuS Freiraumplanung
Lighting Zumtobel

Readers' comments (1)

  • I have researched a nursing home for five years and am desperate to tell those who design nursing homes that a perfect design for a nursing home would be to have a soundproofed inner circle with children playing (nursery perhaps) with chairs situated around the outer circle so that the elderly have constant entertainment and if acceptable, could build relationships with the children. Families would feel happy to have their children with their grannies and it would stimulate the granny and allow her to play more of a 'family' role. It's just a thought, and needs tons of discussion as there will be lots of pros and cons, but these poor 'oldies' are dying of boredom in these places and I have noticed that young children have no bias when it comes to the elderly. Just a thought, but one that keeps coming back to me!


    Catherine Wescott

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