Spaceplacelab is an experiment – it asks whether a new way of life is possible in the face of the problems currently faced by mankind. The Spaceplacelab is probably one of the larger, indispensable town-planning experiments in Europe. All 1 can show you is a process – it will take some time before we find the answers.
Spaceplacelab has its roots on Hombroich island, whose soil, in the course of the past two decades, has become increasingly fertile. Before that period the notion of a project of this size would very probably have left me feeling sceptical. What the Hombroich years have taught me, however, is that taking small steps over a longer period of time allows you to change reality effectively. The Hombroich island Foundation is one of the biggest cultural projects in North-Rhine-Westphalia, or indeed in Germany. This is especially true as far as the fine arts and architecture are concerned, but the project extends equally to music and literature, and has also accommodated a group of biophysicists for the last ten years whose research methods have been highly innovative. However, we also provide a platform for people exploring new directions in religion or spirituality. Ten years ago the museum, which became the Hombroich island Foundation at that time, was joined by the nearby former NATO Missile Base. Unlike the museum itself, where people can wander at will and in peace through the galleries and the large landscape park, the Missile Base is more private in character. It provides a working environment for artists, writers and scientists. It is hard to say when the island initiative actuaily began. I’ll begin in the early 1980s. The Rhineland businessman and property deveioper Karl-Heinrich Müller was on the lookout for a place to site his growing art collection. On finding Hombroich, he came accompanied by a number of well-known contemporary artists, such as Erwin Heerich, Gotthard Graubner and many others, whose contributions to this great collaborative project have been decisive. They began with the idea of starting up a different kind of museum, inspired among other things by Kroller-Mbiler and Louisiana. Like any other sizable designed space, a town for example, the museum is determined by the site itself: a spacious park-like landscape with a smattering of pavilions. Visitors pass back and forth between this designed zone and the water meadows of the Erft river. Paul Cézanne’s words, , come to mind in Hombroich, where the creative forces of nature and those of Man enter into a dialogue.
The first house built by Erwin Heerich in the Hombroich park in 1982, the so-called High Gallery, was carefully erected by four workers between two existing rows of trees. Nearby, Erwin Heerich constructed a little bridge across a side-branch of the Erft, connecting the Pink House and High Gallery to the island in the Erft. This house lays down the basic principles of Heerich’s architecture at Hombroich.
In favour of spatial clarity Heerich has shunned the technology usually incorporated in museum design for the purpose of conserving works of art. Instead the building sees itself as a walk-on sculpture, as a (synthetic) artwork, capable of housing other works. The white light failing through opal glass windows is intensified by the white marble floors and white plastered walls, enhancing the viewer’s appreciation of the artworks. The positioning of the house gives it a divided character: a double-pitch roof pointing north and south is a delightful way of sensitizing the viewer to the basic light conditions. The light gives each white room a different colour temperature. In the morning one of them takes on a redder and the other a bluer hue.
Erwin Heerich’s architecture is one way of giving substance to the notion that works of plastic art are not only perceived from without, as the skin of a solid mass, but as a negative, a process evolved and defining itself as sculpture from within. Eleven such houses were built between 1985 and 1993 in the expansive parkland of Hombroich, which in fact continued to grow during this period.
The Müller Collection focuses on a range of arts. To begin with it concentrated on the work of Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, Jean Fautrier and Yves Klein. These were soon set alongside BanChiang archaeological finds, Khmer art, an East Asian and Chinese Collection as well as African and Oceanic exhibits. There is work by Rembrandt and Cézanne as well as outstanding contemporary art, work by Gotthard Graubner, Anatol, and Norbert Tadeusz, artists whose contribution has strongly influenced the development of Hombroich island. The unique character of the Museum island is the work of Karl-Heinrich Müller and the artists themselves; it was not the invention of art historians or official custodians. It is to Gotthard Graubner that the Collection owes its revolutionary concept of confronting with each other works of art from different cultures and periods: Schwitters set alongside an African torso, for instance. To look for labels in this museum is to look in vain. Visitors to the Gallery for Work on Paper may suddenly find themselves in the presence of a Rembrandt. What they do with that experience is their own business. Besides these single-cell, simple buildings Hombroich also has a number of larger exhibition buiidings, each of which is divided into several parts, such as the and the . It is not only the nature of the architecture but the encounter with nature itself that characterizes the special way in which visitors are invited to experience the Museum. The landscape designer Dr. Bernhard Korte, whose work has been essential to the island’s development, commissioned a geological air survey in order to reconstruct the lie of the cut-off river loops. The rivers which once meandered through the meadows here left several oxbow lakes before they were straightened. The lakes have been reconstructed. It can therefore be described as a restored landscape.
Today, 15 years later, walking through this soggy terrain, also called the Broich, it is hard to imagine that things were ever really any different. It hasn’t taken long for the landscape to recover an entirely appropriate character.
In 1994 the purchase of the former NATO Missile Base saw the addition of a large piece of land. Travelling home in the evening from Hombroich island had meant driving past this brightly-lit and frequently patrolled military instailation, whose atmosphere contrasted so sharply with that of the place one had just left.
Over the years this area opposite the island had fallen into increasing disuse, until eventually the military authorities returned the remaining terrain to the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. We had had something eise in mind for it for some time: its rededication. Even in terms of the landscape, the Missile Base, sited on a dry plain 15 metres above the surrounding countryside, contrasts pleasantly with the island, which largely consists of bogland and water-meadows on the banks of the Erft. On a clear day you can see for miles around in all directions.
When we took over the Missile Base it had fallen into a state of negiect. Contrary to the advice we received from many people at the time, we decided not to demolish the Base or replace it with something new, but to retain it as a kind of memorial and redevelop it, albeit for civilian use. The military atmosphere of the place was still very strong, reminiscent of certain border instailations, with sand strips, barbed-wire fences and lamps, placed at very short intervals, capable of illuminating the piace as brightly as daylight. We removed and replaced the camouflaged metal screening in front of the halls. Once we had finished the place was not unlike a small country airport. Artists, musicians, writers and scientists now live and work in the former halls, watchtowers and hangars.
New buildings, designed by Erwin Heerich, have been added to the former military complex; they complement the houses on the island and are capable of fulfilling various functions. On the island there are oratories and galleries, whereas the buildings in the Base are meant to provide space for readings and other events, or for people to live and work in. The has a more intro~ spective character, with fourteen guest rooms for the accommodation of the artists‘ and writers‘ guests. There are always people coming and going at Hombroich, people who live and work here. The painter and sculptor Per Kirkeby provided the design for an ensemble of buildings between the island and the Missile Base. Several have already been built, sited together on a field-segment. We call them the because of their spatial character. Their rooms have no functional design. They are very plain, and their intake of light unusually satisfying. A new building by Kirkeby is currently under construction for the Kahmen Literary Foundation.
Karl-Heinrich Müller wanted Kirkeby to build other houses, too. However, the planning authorities at Neuss and Grevenbroich, whose cooperation with us today is exemplary, proceeded to inform us that because of the changing dimensions of the project it might be necessary to reconsider the building plan as a whole. If they were to grant planning permission at all, they said, they would begin with a new industrial estate to the right and left of the Foundation site. You can imagine our dismay at such a prospect. The thought of the unambitious architecture of an industrial estate bordering on an area to whose development people had devoted such a great deal of time and care was anathema. So with the support of the municipal authorities we proposed an alternative to the industrial estate: the Spaceplacelab.
The basic idea of the plan is to preserve the density and artistic character of the buildings on the island and Missile Base. What we want to do is give the initiative a more binding, pragmatic character and project it on a larger scale. To achieve this end, and rather than thinking out the detail ourselves, we decided to invite adists working in the cross-over zone between architecture and sculpture as weil as various architects with whom we had been in contact for some time to contribute to a larger forum in which different ideas could be aired and tested. It was important to include not only architects but other artists, whose approach might be quite different altogether, all joining in free and frank discussion. The following planners have become involved in the ongoing Spacepiacelab project to date: Raimund Abraham, New York; Tadao Ando, Osaka; Shigeru Ban, Tokyo; Finsterwaider Architects, Stephanskirchen; Erwin Heerich, Meerbusch; Anatol Herzfeld, DOsseldorf; Thomas Herzog, Munich; Hoidn Wang Partners, Berlin; Per Kirkeby, Copenhagen; Krischanitz & Frank, Vienna-Berlin; Oliver Kruse, Cologne; Daniel Libeskind, New York; Katsuhito Nishikawa, DOsseldorf; Frei Otto, Leonberg; Alvaro Siza, Porto.
The object of our proposal is a piece of land between the island and the Missile Base, between the districts of Neuss-Hoizheim and Grevenbroich-Kapellen. This area is so extensive that it soon became clear that we must begin by researching a diverse range of options on different sites. We do not only want to find answers. We want to ask questions too. It is clear that this process may take several decades.
In past centuries there were various examples of people reclaiming large areas of agricultural land for human habitation, as a space for living and working in: the early settlements are such an example, and, more importantly as far as we are concerned, there was the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea of the Broad Acre City. He developed the concept of people living and working in one place rather than commuting to work. He wanted concentration – a dialogue between types of habitation, agriculture and Nature. The form of habitation was to provide a positive contrast with what Alexander Mitscherlich had referred to as the (inhospitableness) of our towns.
The Hombroich Foundation comprises some 170 acres of land. The surrounding Splaceplacelab area is about three square kilometres in size and is bounded quite naturally by the district of NeussHolzheim, the route of a motorway and the district of GrevenbroichKapellen. If we achieve our ten pe.r cent population density target up to 15000 people may come to live here. Instead of forming a master plan we decided to divide up the land into separate parcels according to our knowledge of property relations, borders drawn on the land registry map, and of the likely land subdivision permissions. We gave each architect a rectangular piece of land to plan for and asked him to present a design entirely of his own making. The response of many of the architects was: What are we supposed to build? A hospital? A school? Others said they couldn’t begin until we had given them the space allocation plan. It was very interesting. As a point of contrast, Erwin Heerich had built houses whose use value could be interpreted quite variously. It is not necessary to design unambiguous buildings.
Our interest in developing this site is anything but financial; rather, it is driven by the notion of quality. The whole point of doing anything here at all is that it should be meaningful, that it should help us find answers and that its experimental nature should demonstrate promise. With this in mind, the question of how durable a building should be appears in a new light. Ought there to be a detailed space allocation plan, tailored perhaps to the needs of an institution which might – for whatever reason – have ceased to exist within ten years time, or should the designs be artistic. It is a difficult question. Participating artists, architects and philosophers who had had links with Hombroich for some time – e. g. Walter Biemel, introduced their ideas in workshops and at conferences. These deliberations resulted one and a half years ago in the Hombroich Manifesto, which has been published on several occasions eisewhere. Today 1 should like to present just three basic tenets of the Spaceplacelab project:
Hombroich Spaceplacelab 1. Respect for landscape instead of indiscriminate crowding. 2. Hombroich Spaceplacelab is to consist of 10 per cent land with buildings and 90 per cent without. 3. It is an open experiment.
To take the 10 / 90 % division one step further, it is intended that the 90 % be divided again into one third forest, one third agricultural use (including garden produce), and one third orchards. Each planner must work within this parameter when seeking a solution for his own Quarter. In this way we hope – as far as possible – to preclude financial exploitation of the area while at the same time providing new space for countryside development.
The overall plan shows the way that each planner has filled his rectangle with a dream. There is no sense of influence from without. Everybody has done their own thing. At the Biennale in 2004 the plans were shown together for the first time. Each planner presented a model on a scale of 1:500. All the models were put on a large table. The collaborative part of the project could now begin, with each planner exploring relations with his neighbours, looking at the way they reacted to his own plan, discovering connections and new ways of progressing the project. We are at the beginning of a process. During recent workshops we spoke to local farmers and other neighbours who work or live in the adjacent areas. We hope to involve them at the conceptual stage, thus pre-empting animosity. We have to find a solution which will permit all of us to live and work in the same place.
A notice somebody has attached to the standpipe in my studio reads: . The ground-water here contains so much nitrate that its regular consumption is a danger to health. One of the reasons for this is that several of the local farmers find it necessary to spread millions of litres of liquid pig manure on their fields. I. In the long term this cannot be the kind of world we want to pass on to our children. So we are now at the beginning of a lengthy process of negotiation. This is bound to produce very different views and ideas. If all the participants do have one idea in common, however, it is their acceptance of a symbiotic relationship between humans, animals and Nature as the key to an appropriate form of survival on our planet.
publ. in: Wege zur Architektur 3, Literaturbüro Ostwestfalen-Lippe, FSB