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The Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany was the largest and most modern coal mining plant in the heyday of the iron and steel industry.

Designed by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, rusty red steel and brick, building and machine are set against green fields and a blue sky. In a perpetual state of abstinence, this omnipotent, yet arranged marriage is forced to put on a brave smile and greet the daily visitors to its silent ruins. Groups of French and German students tread its geometric plains and lean against unwilling walls. Machines, forever silenced are mocked by bright red lights which try to inform us of past furies. The pair is believed to have been inspired by the New Functualism at the core of Bauhaus thinking and developed the site into a flexible industrial complex.

Well, I beg to differ.

On many occassions, the architecture's functionalism manifests itself as complete disregard to the same architectural dictum. It seems that the Krupp family were all for making a good impression, by whatever means necessary, and the architects catered to this need till the very last detail. The Doppelbock, the hauling framework of Shaft XII, has become symoblic of Zollverein and frequently participates in a visitor's first contact with the site. Despite it being read immediately as a structure executed for technical reasons, it is not representative of its mining predecessors. While potential clients were ushered around above ground, labourers were making their way beneath, literally under the direst of conditions. Should they ever set foot on a blade of grass in its welcoming zone, that is the "Ehrenhof" they would be fired on the spot.

Keep a watchful eye and you will notice stores made to look like well-lit office blocks and a fake staircase whose impossible 45 degree acclivity rises to the heavens. The function of most buildings is merely to satisfy clean perspectives and symmetries. Where central feautures cannot satisfy the principle of duality, suitable outstanding central feautures are made. The clean pattern language of the young architects, both in their twenties at the beginning of their planning, became blueprints in themselves for the development's overall monumental style.

'Through repeating similar elements, the impression of one single building-ensemble is intensified.
The simple forms of the individual cubes harmonize with the “large context” of the whole.
The single cube, being the simplest shape, offers a fairly uncomplicated adaptation to technical change, when objects must be exchanged or replaced'.

 

The Boiler Room's main hall echoes Antonio Sant'Elia's 1912-1914 highly futuristic sketches of cathedrals to an electric religion. There is no doubt that the pair were inspired by this artist's Futuristic drawings, whose visions have mostly graced the cinema screen One example is Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film 'Metropolis'. Indeed, the Zeche Zollverein, which was completed 5 years later illustrates the impression this Austrian film maker had on its authors. Did Schupp and Kremmer also know what future imperfect world was being devised?

Indeed, the Ruhr's activity was hardest hit in postwar Germany. In the course of 272 air raids during World War II, a massive 90 percemt of Essen city centre was destroyed, the remaining city area suffering 60 percent destruction. As the Ruhr Agreement within the Suggested Post-Surrender Program for Germany stated:

'Here lies the heart of German industrial power, the cauldron of wars. This area should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it can not in the fore-seeable future become an industrial area.'

 

All living in the area, included skilled workers and their families, were encouraged to emigrate immediately. Though the mines were reopened eventually, the mining industry was in crisis: all mines in the Ruhrpot area - with the exception of the Zollverein colliery - ceased coal production and were mostly demolished between 1958 and 1973. In 1986, when Essen wiped the last specks of coal dust from its face, the Zollverein Mining Complex was not allowed to become a carcass of its former glory and was listed as a protected monument. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and works on a masterplan for the area began, under the direction of Rem Koolhaas.

The Masterplan has attempted to foster cultural heritage into the site by injecting it with a number of new businesses and activities generally based on Design. The Coal Washing plant is currently being transformed into a leisure are with a cafe, swimming facilities in the summertime and an ice skating rink during winter. Besides a number of exhibition spaces, there is also a cinema and workspaces for designers and artists. The Boiler House has been made into the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen by Norman Foster and showcases the winners of the annual red dot awards for product design and communication. The School for Design Business and Management was completed early in 2006 by SANAA while ENTRY 2006 made an appearance in the later months.

In 2002, the Zollverein celebrated its 70th birthday with a showing of 'Metropolis'. As an added treat, an impressive light show included circles of light moving up and down the chimneys of the Coal Washing facility. This imitated a scene were the robot Maria is brought to life in the same film. Perhaps, Zeche Zollverein is similarly slowly adjusting to being prodded and examined, cleansed of its past and hung out to dry.





Suggested Post Surrender Program for Germany Retrievd May 27, 2007 here
Zollverein website Retrieved May 28, 2007 here
Essen history Retrieved May 28, 2007 found here

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