“It’s not trying to be a monument,” says Nikolaus Hirsch of German practice Wandel Höfer Lorch + Hirsch’s visitor centre at Ravensbrük, north-east Germany. “There are enough historical monuments here already.”
The site was home to one of Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camps – rows of detention blocks conceived on a vast urban scale. But it’s also a popular lakeside picnic spot for weekend tourists. “We had to address a diverse range of users and deal with constantly shifting functions,” says Hirsch.
The sober, tunnel-like building plays host to exhibitions and conferences, plus a cafe and bookshop. It will also function as a temporary home for other nearby facilities awaiting renovation. “This demanded a kind of fluid room which could be easily reconfigured,” says Hirsch. This problem was elegantly answered with large movable wooden furniture components – each housing a secondary function – that are used to segment the long space and provide definition, separating history from coffee.
The linear interior is framed by uninterrupted walls of sandblasted channel glass that, typical of Hirsch’s material alchemy, appear to be more substantial from the outside and only reveal interior details at night. “We wanted to make something that wasn’t massive but had a certain heaviness, and could float easily above the ground,” says Hirsch.
The truss structure spans 25m over a slope and is only supported at two points. “All the surrounding buildings are very solid and have a close relationship with the soil – which has a certain significance here,” says Hirsch. “So we wanted to touch it as lightly as possible.”
This is becoming a common strategy for buildings on such sensitive sites (see the Bergen-Belsen feature).
images Roland Halbe