DThe signs point to preservation and conversion. Actually. The German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt is currently showing an exhibition entitled “Nothing New – Better Building in Existing” instead of new building visions. High-level politicians have also become vigilant: “The first priority must be the use of the existing building, then the conversion of the existing building and only if both are not possible, the new building,” according to the Federal Ministry of Building.
Environmentalists go even further and call for a “construction turnaround” with the aim of radically reducing emissions in the construction industry. The Association of German Architects supports the initiative for a demolition moratorium. Andrea Gebhard, the President of the Federal Chamber of Architects, calls for a “conversion culture” and a change from the model building code to a “conversion code”.
All nice words, but the reality is very different. In Brunswick, for example. There, the city administration had announced an urban and open space planning competition “Reuse of the Klinikum Holwedestraße”. There are around a dozen houses on the nearly five hectare site of the former baroque fortifications, including several privately owned buildings as well as the listed main building of the clinic from around 1900, which is to be preserved to examine the possibility of converting and refurbishing the building,” the tender states dutifully.
The jury, chaired by urban planner Uli Hellweg (member of both the Convention of the Baukultur Foundation and the Chamber of Architects), had other priorities. Out of nine entries from the second stage of the competition, the first prize was awarded to one design that proposed demolishing all the buildings that were up for grabs and replacing them with new ones.
“Charming conservation concept”
In doing so, one of the offices had demonstrated that the spatial program (300 apartments, offices, commercial premises) could easily be accommodated in the existing buildings. The jury rewarded the “charming preservation concept” with recognition and recognized: “With this approach, the work positions itself in an exemplary manner in the current discussion on climate policy issues in urban development. Precisely because of the preservation of the embodied energy already invested in this quarter, it stands out far from all other work”, but complains about “functional deficiencies in the permeability of the spatial sequences”. The structure of the building is “caught in the historically grown eclecticism”.
The eclectic excuses also mention “difficult to calculate economic risks” of the redevelopment. But perhaps one should also have considered the risk that remains of the baroque city fortifications could come to light when excavating the new pits. Then it would be really tricky.
It’s understandable that the judges enjoy arguing about new building designs rather than approving how the dull stock is being dealt with. They did not judge in the spirit of the new building policy unanimously propagated by the associations and politicians. However, the fault also lies with the organizer, who should have asked for an alternative design from each participant while retaining the existing buildings. The jury, which incidentally did not award a second prize, but two third prizes, unanimously recommended that the organizer commission the first prize winner with the further planning on the basis of the competition entry. He should think again about how to do justice to the new realities.