zollverein-kubus / zollverein school of management and design
architects: saana, kazyo sejima and ryue nishizawa
zollverein masterplan 2002-2008
architects: OMA / rem koolhaas
original buildings and planning, c.1928-1964
architects: fritz schupp, martin kremmer and others.
I spent a few hours at the zollverein in essen just as every other living architect seems compelled to do. and while I was duly impressed with the structures - bauhaus+koolhaas is after all about as canonical as it gets in modern architecture - I also felt I had left the real world for a kind of reservation: there weren't any people out there except architects and students of architecture.
even sanaa's school of management and design had been abandoned which suited its hostile minimalism well, but emptiness was hardly the idea when koolhaas & co. named it a programmatic attractor in their 2002 masterplan.
the idea that a design school can attract other businesses is central to OMA's scheme in which cultural investment becomes the basis for a commercially viable development centered on creative companies. or put more bluntly: when given the commission, the architect advised his client to bring in more architects.
this line of thinking is related to richard florida's book on the creative class as the basis of future economic expansion, cities and countries competing for their attention. the flattery inherent in such a concept should make us suspicious as members of the creative class, but lately we have been given a new and scarrier image comparable to the incestuous mentality of an architect advising his client to get more architects: the investment banker advising his client to buy the shares of the investment bank instead of...well, instead of proper, real-world shares.
the advisor losing touch with reality has ugly consequences, although sanaa's school cannot really be called ugly. but it has monument written all over it in a kind of square window braille and there can be little doubt that its intended symbolic role in the zollverein area is at odds with its future use as a school, should students ever arrive in any greater numbers. I was unmoved.
by far the most lasting impression of beauty from that evening in essen was that of the turkish girls with their thick black hair who rode the same tram I was on. some of them even got off at the same stop but proceeded to walk in the opposite direction, away from the zollverein.
I wondered if they hadn't discoved the place but I have since come to the conclusion that zollverein hadn't discoved them, the most glorious natural resource in the area.