In the Eye of the Storm

Hectic hustle and bustle, noisy announcements, a babble of voices – airports are places of transit. A place of silence in the midst of all the commotion has been provided by gmp Architekten and Petersen Tegl at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
by Simone Kraft | 12/24/2022

Islands of calm are spaces set aside for prayer, silence and reflection. One of them is now located in a particularly hectic place: In the heart of the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, designed by gmp Architekten, which has been in operation since 2020 and is designed to handle 33 million passengers a year. The Room of Silence, also created by gmp – actually a series of five rooms of different sizes with square floor areas and a stepped vaulted ceilings – serves as a place of retreat for people of all cultures and denominations, for whom it is accessible round the clock: Reduced to the basic design elements of earth, sound and light, the result is an oasis of serenity and tranquillity in the centre of the busy airport terminal.

The walls, floor and vaulted ceilings of the Room of Silence are completely clad with dark fired Kolumba bricks from Petersen Tegl. These are bricks that not only bring with them a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship, but were also created for a special purpose: Kolumba was developed in 2000 as a joint project between the Danish manufacturer and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor specifically for the Kolumba Museum in Cologne. In the Berlin Room of Silence, the use of a single material makes it appear as if the space had been chiselled out of a large rock. Slightly staggered offsets in the vaulted ceiling create a pyramid shape, each terminating in an indirectly lit oculus window. “The brick gives the rooms a feeling of eternity and security. Time seems to stand still in these rooms, so that you can completely concentrate on your thoughts,” explains Hans Joachim Paap, architect and partner at gmp. To achieve a special atmosphere in the Room of Silence, the use of a special material was fundamental. “Kolumba is a very beautiful brick with a fantastic surface. The warm, dark brown colour creates a great atmosphere,” Paap continues. “Each brick is made individually – you can clearly see the fingerprints made when the bricks were taken out of their moulds. The brick gives the room a feeling of eternity and security.

The clearly reduced forms of the "brick" spaces in the Room of Silence evoke associations with archaic buildings, and with early Christian and Islamic brick architecture. In addition, the bricks pay hommage to the age-old tradition in Berlin and Brandenburg of using bricks to construct buildings. Such references contribute all the more to the symbolic and spiritual quality of the design, of which Paap says “Brick is an expression of the fundamental elements of human existence, i.e. fire, earth and water”. The essence of the Room of Silence is completed by a carefully considered lighting concept that allows the brick spaces to fully unfold their effect. The vaulted ceilings consist of ever-shrinking square frames of Kolumba bricks that are attached to a steel construction. The joints are backlit. Together with the oculi and a backlit gap between the wall and the floor, which facilitates orientation in the room, they bathe the rooms in contemplative light. The bricks almost seem to dissolve, which is an effect often found in Gothic cathedrals, for example.

Visitors to the Room of Silence can thus immerse themselves in a special atmosphere of tranquillity: Entering through a common reception room that contains the multilingual sculptural legend “Silence”, two identical areas branch off to each side, arranged symmetrically along a central axis and growing larger from room to room, one Christian and one non-denominational. For the architects, it was important to design spaces that are exactly the same here: “The spaces and their symbolic meanings are identical. For us, they are a sign that different religions can live together”.

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by Petersen Tegl

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Petersen Magazine 45