Walking the line: how raumwandler architects bridge the divide between the past and the present
Text: Cornelia Brelowski | Photos: Bernd Hiepe/Guillaume Hobi
A cquiring a castle in the former GDR region of Germany is not an unusual move for investors nowadays. The next step, however, is not that easy.
How to approach a historical or even listed building is a delicate task that experts are asked for. One architect who has specialised on the matter of restoring historical structures and opening them up for new purposes is Uwe Licht, founder of the architects’ office‘raumwandler’in Berlin.
‘raumwandler’ translates both as ‘space transformers’and‘space walkers’.You could say they are walking on a path between the old and the new, carefully changing the existing structure with regards to both the past and the present. The team of seven consists of architects, engineers and an art historian who specialise in restoring and converting historic and listed buildings. While tackling a myriad of projects in the Berlin area, raumwandler are increasingly getting involved with nationwide projects as well, their latest being the conversion of the former Heppenheim clinics in the Odenwald area, a complex dating back to 1866. Set within alluring green surroundings, the Heppenheim clinics include a horseshoe-shaped array of three large main buildings as well as dormitories and former isolation houses.The complex is to be conversed into 180 housing units. Here, the challenging task includes dealing with restricting elements such as roof trusses constructed of height-reducing wooden struts – not an easy space to convert into inhabitable snug attic flats.
From the perspective of valuing buildings as historical assets, the raumwandler team focus on an intensive analysis of the existing structure, meanwhile exercising an always fresh and critical view on contemporary architecture itself. Sustainable construction and conversion are one of the main goals of their work as well as the preservation of the historical structure.Architect Uwe Licht has studied both architecture and scenography and is also a trained carpenter. Having specialised in building-protection and making use of long years of practical experience allows Uwe Licht to do his own planning even within the difficult field of fire prevention concepts. He opened his own office in Berlin in 2005.
Every building that the raumwandler team tackles has its own individual history. This history is being incorporated in the concept and gives each project its own unique character. New elements are always added in context with the building‘s history and the characteristics of the surroundings.
Projects by raumwandler architects include the restructuring and restoration of the former GDR government guest house, set in the park of Schönhausen castle in Berlin Pankow and the former castle of Schloss Güterfelde which, together with several outhouses and a listed ‘rammed earth’ building from the ‘50s, was converted into 36 apartments. While keeping the outer Neo-Renaissance style of the Güterfelde castle, the inside now features modern technical assets such as a lift, aesthetically embedded into the spiral staircase.The adjacent buildings present a clean-cut design, suggesting light and space, therefore accentuating the more decorative appearance of the castle itself.
Clients approaching raumwandler architects are investors who have acquired a historical or listed building, a purchase which automatically comes with a number of requirements and safety issues that need special attention. Firstly, a historical building structure requires a detailed technical analysis, executed by a skilled team of experts. In addition, the architectural divide between the old and the new needs to be mastered with an open and innovative mind so as to preserve and protect the original building and, at the same time, add the comfort nowadays living requires.
In the case of the Metropolitan Gardens, this has been achieved by adding little details to the original structure such as extra balconies, terraces and private gardens to create privacy. At the same time the conversion allows special trump cards to remain, like up to five-metre high living room walls (and windows).This melts into a concept of creating a unique living environment with a definitive link to the representational nature of the former US headquarters. Converted into 120 housing units and business suites, the area is set in West Berlin’s green Dahlem borough. The original design dates back to the ‘30s and the complex was taken over as headquarters by the US army in 1945. The buildings’ lean, sculptural aesthetics have been preserved and have also inspired a new building which completes the redesign. Inhabiting a town house on such historical grounds seems like a picturesque everyday experience indeed.
As Uwe Licht states: when it comes to the restoration and conversion of listed buildings, the special appeal lies within the synergy of the old and the new. To find out about the individual historical context, the variations in construction – that is what makes each individual project unique, new and exciting.
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