Hall 10 was converted by Chestnut Niess into a canteen and library, and the frontage section to the right supplemented. Photo © Bernd Schlütter/MediaService
Locomotive Breath
by Ralf Wollheim
Jan 29, 2014

If you head southeast from Berlin by rail, just after the city limits you reach a very strange place: Wildau. To the right of the tracks, one factory hall complete with brickwork gables stands next to the other, to the left of the track one tenement block follows the other. This unusually monotonous setting is geared entirely to the rail tracks, and is the product of the history of Wildau, which was purpose-built back at the end of the 19th century for locomotive makers Schwartzkopff. The town unwinds along a natural depression and also follows the line of the key transport links, namely the railway lines and the barges on the nearby River Dahme. The huge factory halls (and back then they went to make up the largest locomotive factory in Europe) as well as the 800-odd apartments were constructed from 1899 onwards for Berliner Maschinenbau AG as the successor company to Schwartzkopff. Soon not only locomotives were rolling out of the halls, but so were jigging machines and other heavy equipment.

The ensemble is of course now, a good century later, protected as a listed monument; not just the architecture, but the social and industrial history of the place make it special. Gradually, the workers apartments and the managers’ villas have been modernized, the historical halls and administrative buildings given a new and different lease of life and expanded. A large part of the grounds are now used for the Wildau Technical University of Applied Sciences; the effort constitutes a series of remarkable methods for handling our heritage, and the latest buildings stand out for appealing contemporary architecture.

In 2006, the Berlin architects at SEHW won the competition for the extension of the university campus and designed a student hall of residence and other institute buildings. The hostel on the campus’ edge is invitingly open, with bright outside access corridors with glass-covered parapets that make the façade seem a lot lighter. The architects believe this upgrades the premises on offer, as the groundplans of the 100 student flats are decidedly Spartan. The Pop pattern of colorful outsized blades of grass printed on the glass offers a little discretion, while likewise signaling the private character of this edifice on the outskirts of the campus. After all, adjacent to the hostel is a lecture hall center and a so-called admin building for various faculties, both also designed by SEHW. Here, bright metal facades define the look of things, the perforated pattern is reminiscent of the now historical tradition of punch-cards.

In terms of urban design, the new buildings part company with the chamber-like strictly parallel orientation of the old works halls, thus creating the sense of a plaza and clearly framing the main axis that otherwise ran from the railway station seemingly out into nowhere. The narrow pedestrian route connecting the campus to a zone on the other side of a hill has been retained. The playful interaction with the strict grid layout is emphasized by the angular, glass frontage that functions as an entrance on the side[JG1] of one of the historical works halls. Here, a large auditorium and numerous administrative offices have been inserted as new houses inside the erstwhile Hall 17. Alongside various gray tones used for the modernized interior spaces, the striking green from next door repeatedly crops up, as a signature color and contemporary add-on.

Anderhalten Architekten also used the house-in-house principle for the first lecture hall center in Wildau. There, the 4,000 sqm-large two-span hall had a coarser charm, and rusty beams and other details in part preserved the patina of the old building, contrasting sweetly in Hall 14 with the modern glass inserts. Here, the old and the new are clearly distinguished from each other, and the elaborate separation is a gesture of respect to the industrial hall, which no longer fulfils so profane a function.

The loading-bay hall erected in 1920, in which the locomotives were taken apart and packaged, had a similarly airy feel, and was destined to house an information and media center as well as a canteen. Berlin’s Chestnutt-Niess-Architekten viewed the task as a metamorphosis of the old hall, and supplemented a gables and a window axis on the east side – originally planned in 1920, but never built. Only if you look twice will you recognize the “extension” as such, as the old building was subtly supplemented using dyed concrete and a plain shape.

The various interventions have nevertheless ensured that the old Schwarzkopff grounds retain their somewhat rough-and-ready feel, and indeed in parts you get the sense of being among charming ruins. That said, this is no museum village, but a place that is still evolving, that has a future just as much as it has a past.

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The campus Wildau before the additions of SEHW architecture.
Photo © Bernd Schlütter / Media Service
Striking green and orange colored built-in-components are added to the new so-called "Verfügungsgebäude". Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)
The SEHW Architektur new build confidently contrasts with the historical brick buildings.
Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)
The new student residence is located on the edge of the campus.
Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)
The characteristic green also crops up inside the lecture hall in the old hall.
Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)
The original hall 17 was adapted for the new uses by means of the house-in-house principle.
Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)
Anderhalten architects preserved a part of the patina of Hall 14, the inserts were placed as glass boxes. Photo © Bernd Schlütter / Media Service
The hall’s patina was preserved in part; the new facilities were included as glass boxes.
Photo © Bernd Schlütter/MediaService
The arcades extend the range of the inhabitants - at least when there is good weather. Photo © Lisa Kattner (SEHW Architektur)