The idea of "built landscape" is the prime concept of this work:
The superimposition of the administration building and the noise protection wall creates the opportunity to engage and experience this entire complex on various levels as a landscape. The assembly hall of the visitor center unfolds on the upper level of this new landscape opening up towards the power station. The administration building underneath is sculpted into the landscape wall. Offices open up towards the south for sunlight... public areas penetrate through the wall to establish a dialog between the plant and the neighboring settlement of Dachelhofen and a create a visual connection to the city of Schwandorf in the distance. Grass roofs on top of the workshops in the south form a continuation of this new landscape....
An innovative environmental concept without the need for conventional air conditioning and cooling underlines the progressive attitude of the enterprise as a leader in environmental technology.
The dynamic shape of the metal clad skin that unfolds out of this new landscape is visible from beyond the wall. It becomes the signature of the place and helps to transport a new, progressive and positive image for the enterprise's orientation towards the future.
The task to reorganize the power station compound, create a new noise protection barrier and design a new administration building, offered us an intriguing chance to dissolve the dichotomy of landscape and building to realize the deconstruction of those categories into one integrated designed environment: a built landscape to be experienced in a dynamic and curious fashion; an urban landscape not to hide and disengage, but to liberate from the inevitable adverse effects of proximity of this trinity of industrial compound, semi-accessible public space and (sub-)urban residential settlement.
When at first it seems that an earth wall at the fringe of a suburban development of a small Bavarian town would make for an unlikely place to facilitate connecting the community, our clear aim was for this habitat to play an active role in it. It is the barrier that actually renders any residential settlement in the proximity to the power station feasible, by placing the administration building within it (instead of hiding it “inside” the power station compound), it already starts interacting with the city beyond it.
The visitor center brings quite a few thousand visitors each year to the area, a planned center for environmental awareness within the compound and the use of the auditorium by the citizens of Schwandorf as venue for various events and activities clearly indicate the validity of the concept that might serve as a paradigm for applications in similar situation of residential settlements in close proximity to noise emitting environments….
450 m long and up to 13 m high, the central part of a noise protection wall with a 45-degree incline simultaneously constitutes a new administration building for over 140 m. The superimposition of building and earth wall allows one to explore and experience the landscape of this entire ensemble on various levels.
An auditorium with a visitor center unfolds from this landscape and opens up towards the power station compound. It separates from the earth wall on the upper level, resting on two radial supporting walls and cantilevers up to 20 m over the landscape. A long panoramic glass façade leans towards the power station. The administration-building underneath is sculpted into the earth wall. Meeting rooms and common areas penetrate through the wall to establish a relationship with the bordering village. The grass-covered roofs of the power station workshops in south should form the extension of this landscape.
The distinctive shape of the auditorium is visible from far beyond the barrier, heralding a strangely new and positive identity for the place and the enterprise.
As for the part of the building that is situated within the core of the earth wall, a basic structure of exposed concrete is supplemented with built in furniture elements in colored MDF, wooden oak floors, and brightly painted magnesia-bonded panels for acoustic absorption on walls and door elements. Part of the exposed concrete is stained in bright colors to contrast the archaic look of the untreated concrete. Profiled glass walls allow daylight to penetrate far into the building. All meeting and conference rooms are enclosed in frameless glass walls. The light timber structure of the upper glue-lam shell remains exposed; the diamond shaped curvilinear spaces between them are filled with acoustic panels stained in a dark purple color.
Most of the north side of the building is covered in vegetation, yet three aluminum clad meeting rooms project through the earth wall and cantilever over the slope. The southern façade with most of the offices opens towards the power station with a band of windows resting on gabion retaining walls in dark basalt evolving out the adjacent landscape. Some of these gabion walls even penetrate into the foyer of the building
The main structural challenges arose from the fact that we had to create an earth wall of up to 13 m height that is capable of supporting not only itself at a 45 degree slope, but also to accommodate a building within it, situated at about 6 meters above grade. It was very important to cover the building in landscape and vegetation that appears to be continuous and without indication of the shape of the building underneath.
A specially engineered and carefully balanced mixture of earths with fine aggregate and a very low percentage cement for adhesion ensures the stability of the earth wall structure, yet allows enough water to be retained to let vegetation cover the structure completely and evenly. A large portion of the building is covered with up to 7 m of the earth wall. Here the core of earth wall is built up with geo-blocks to reduce the weight of the earth wall. All this is covered with the same earth mixture and vegetation. The upper floor of the building folds out of the wall and cantilevers up to 20 m over the upper level of the site. A pre-stressed concrete structure, initially supported by two curvilinear walls allows the auditorium and visitor center to hover over the site to allow panoramic views of the entire area. A lightweight structure of diagonally braced glue-lam beams forms the upper shell of this part. This structure continuously evolves in shape and form, with the entire shape of the CNC milled beams following the always changing geometry of the building. A skin from 2 layers of 34mm boards bent into form and nailed at 10-degree angles to each other helps to create a very stiff shell in combination with the glue-lam beams. The entire timber structure was produced file-to-factory from 3D-plans.
Most of the materials evolve from the surrounding landscape, the industrial-scape of the power station nearby and the cultural heritage of the former aluminum works on the site. For the uninitiated viewer it will be hard to discern in some places, where the actual building starts and where the earth structure does not bear any construction.
Landscape features are incorporated into the building; built structures generate a new landscape. Simple and archaic spaces are contrasted with clearly artificial, refined and crafted surfaces.
Heat using excess heat from the power station, The administration offices are very well insulated large parts of the building are covered by up to 7 m of earth, no air conditioning but active cooling with hydronic concrete core systems
Rainwater is either retained in the earth wall, the earth cover of the building or runs off straight from the roof the auditorium shell and is collected in a retention pool underneath it. In an attempt to keep sealed surfaces to a minimum all parking spaces are executed as water bound gravel aggregate surfaces.