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House of Youth by Kersten + Kopp Architekten, Hamburg, Germany

Flashes of bright colour and unorthodox structural forms make it clear that this is a building of vigour. Photography by Klemens Ortmeyer

With its supple forms housing a range of different functions, there’s a great deal going on in this youth centre in Hamburg. And rather than concealing everything within a dumb shed, its architect, the Berlin-based partnership of Kersten + Kopp, has elected to articulate this complexity and make it the expressive key to the building. Their achievement is to pull multiple functions together into a coherent whole by the use of strong linear elements grounded by a neutral palate. At the same time, coruscating flashes of colour, the hosting of external activities within the building footprint and some unorthodox structural forms make it clear that this is a building of both visual and physical vigour.

Translated as the House of Youth, the three-storey structure encompasses sports, leisure and training facilities. Conceived as a destination and distraction for young people, whatever their interests, it sits on the former industrial island of Wilhelmsburg, south of Hamburg’s extensive docklands. It’s also a pioneer project for the city’s international building exhibition, IBA Hamburg, due to be held in 2013.

Across a new square, one short end of the new building confronts the spiralling tower of the Maximilian-Kolbe Church. The sculptural church is executed in bare concrete, softened by some climbing plants, and the House of Youth squares up to it with a shotcrete climbing wall, its undulating surface decoratively pockmarked with handholds and climbers’ markings.

The area behind the wall is cleverly used as a place for storage, and behind that is the building’s key space. Straddled by slender sloping concrete columns, this is a kind of ‘external’ sports court, with enough protection to be used in all but the very worst weather. It’s a flexible and accessible inside outside space, a place to play and socialise, with snappy urban overtones of the basketball courts in West Side Story. The soffit above it gives an idea of the unusual way in which elements are woven together. Two lightwells are lined with a bright green metallic paint finish that echoes the hue of the sports surface.

The hollow concrete slab has been designed both to cover the sports court and to support the structure above. As its curved underbelly projects down through the slab you get some sense of its wider role. What you are actually seeing, however, is the half pipe of the skate run which occupies one side of the building’s first and second floors. Open to the sky, it also has a signature colour, a glowing red that is visible from above and the side, and is also used to animate the underside of the cantilevering roof.

Tucked in among these more standout elements are a standard double-height sports hall at first-floor level, as well as a computer lab, study and dining facilities. It is the sobriety of the rest of the building - the austere aluminum cladding, the simple glazing and external stair, and the neutral but thoughtful internal palette of materials - that underscores the showstopping elements and transforms the project into a surprising and animated whole

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