Raum der Stille Ludwigshafen

Peter Hübner: ‘Room of Silence’, Ludwigshafen

AR has followed the work of Peter Hübner over 20 years,* and it has been distinctive in three ways: an increasingly green agenda related to materials and climatic control, a technical inventiveness of a rather improvisatory kind, and a wholehearted commitment to user participation. Having begun his career as a technical expert in prefabrication, Hübner discovered in the 1980s quite a different role as ringmaster and coordinator of the design and construction process, letting the building develop according to its own conditions to reveal its own personality. The latest addition to the oeuvre provides a graphic demonstration of this at a suitably small scale, with a particularly telling series of images to document the process.

The evangelical youth group in Ludwigshafen lacked a space for prayer and contemplation – a kind of chapel – but they had very limited funds, and knowing of Hübner from his earlier projects, they asked him to see whether it was possible to construct one modestly with an element of self-build. He agreed to run a weekend workshop in April 2005, bringing two members of his office: Christoph Forster and Christian Remes. The Regional Head of the Christian youth group and a local priest were present, along with the group members. They were first invited to make scale models of themselves in clay at a scale of 1:10 (fig), then to experiment with their bodies, standing in a ring to test the effect on the proposed site (fig), then standing, sitting, or lying in various configurations indoors to see what kinds and sizes of space were needed (fig). Suitable enclosures were modelled with the help of the clay figures, and there were discussions about the different and sometimes simultaneous uses of the proposed space. The patterns of use produced concave areas which could be enclosed with a corrugated card wall, and bringing together the different needs suggested a clover-leaf type of plan. Experiments with the card wall revealed the possibility and desirability of a varied section as well as a varied plan to get a more elegant three-dimensional result. The weekend meeting closed with the production of two small models at a scale of 1:200 for further consideration.

The group met again in July to consider the design in more detail and to produce an accurate model at a scale of 1: 10. In the interim Hübner, his assistants, and their engineers, had been considering how to construct the thing. Concrete, the automatic choice for such complex forms in the 1960s or 1970s, would have been impossibly expensive to shutter, very heavy, and even then in need of insulation; also it was unthinkable for self-build. So why not do it all with timber? There could be flat plates for the floor and roof, assembled as conventional timber box structures, and the curved perimeter of each could be trimmed off as required. The two plates could then be linked by a series of regular vertical studs which could change angle as they progressed around the building. The building so achieved could be clad externally in Douglas fir planking, internally in plasterboard, with insulation between and a membrane to waterproof the roof. To detach the vulnerable structure from the wet ground, the floor plate could be raised on sleeper walls supported by economical strip foundations, and the roof plate could be held in position by temporary internal timber scaffolding until the entire studwork was complete.

Building started in May 2006 under the control of a full-time foreman, as with many earlier Hübner projects. This time it was Jens Helm, appointed by the architects and part of their office. As well as the Christian youth group members and their priests, architectural students from both Stuttgart and Saarbrücken took part in the construction as part of their training, and the more technical operations were handled by specialist trades. The external cladding was finished by October, leaving internal finishes to be completed in a more leisurely fashion over the winter of 2006/7.

The result is a building surprisingly distinctive both inside and out, which generates a suitably tranquil and inspiring atmosphere for prayer and contemplation. The clover-leaf plan chosen by common consent can serve unified communal events or allow separate groups in its corners. Three of these are topped with roof lights, while sidelight falls from vertical windows in the gaps between the cylinders, so the natural light is in places intense but also varied, and the sun projects its course across the walls. This lively interior is combined with a scale-less and sculptural external form which contrasts effectively with its relatively profane neighbours, fulfilling the expectation of a ‘religious building’. Despite the low budget there is no need to apologise for a cheap building, and the anonymous compromise of a standard prefabricated shed, often considered the only solution for the price, has been avoided. More important still, though, is the hidden aesthetic component known only to the users: the identification with their building by the youth group. First they gained an education in architecture, thinking hard perhaps for the first time about the use and significance of space and the means to construct it, then they gained a personal sense of empowerment through being able to determine their own environment. The effect on their confidence and their future lives may be impossible to measure but past experience suggests it is considerable.

Peter Blundell Jones 4/1/08 900w


Radolfzeller Straße 38
78351 Ludwigshafen

Ev. Kirche Baden – Kirchenbauamt
Blumenstraße 1-7
76133 Karlsruhe

Ev. Jugend Baden

Baukosten (KG 300-400):
ca. 140.000 € (brutto)

NGF ca. 74 m²

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