exploring architecture and landscape through photographs

Mines, histories, mountains

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SANAA, Zollverein, Essen.

SANAA, Zollverein, Essen.

This SANAA (Kazuye Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) building lies on the edge of the post-industrial site of Zollverein in the Ruhr. Zollverein is a former coal washing plant now become Museum. Rem Koolhaas’s long escalator transports you from the ground to the upper storeys like a lump of carbon on a conveyor belt. The building retains its machinery, its dark structures and cavernous interiors, an ambient coal black. Descending through the museum is an archaeological journey. Each floor introduces earlier historical times; the visitor passes through contemporary photographs of new communities, factories at work, factories during wartime, Third Reich propaganda, flora and fauna, stone heads. If you wish, you can descend further into the old mine, once progressively modern.
SANAA’s contribution to this re-industrialized World Heritage site is, by contrast, a pale concrete cube. Its bold square windows cut through walls and roof to flood the interior with light and bounce it back on the surroundings. The architecture has a simplicity and rawness that seem to project a perpetual newness, one of the aspirations of Modernism. The building’s relatively recent history is that the SANAA design won the commission for the Zollverein School of Management and Design, construction starting in March 2005, the completion date June 2006.
Trying to compose a photograph: the scale of the building is monumental in comparison to neighbouring domestic architecture yet indistinct against the changing winter sky, sometimes blending into light grey clouds.
SANAA designs have a correspondence with the qualities of mountains. (See the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.) This analogical, possibly allegorical, connection points up their collaboration with the photographer Walter Niedermayr whose work explores alpine landscape, its dynamic of light, space, the effect of human interaction. His photographs of the Zollvereinschule assimilate its lightness, emphasizing a play between appearance, visibility and disappearance.
Cover of 2007 Hatje Cantz publication, unfortunately out of print at the moment.

Cover of 2007 Hatje Cantz publication, unfortunately out of print at the moment

© Walter Niedermayr. Recent work, The Aspen Series, 2013

© Walter Niedermayr. Recent work, The Aspen Series, 2013


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