In April 2013, the house of science “Haus der Wirtschaft Südhessen” which accommodates the branch office of the Hessian Association of Metal Processing and Electrical Companies “Unternehmerverband der Metall- und Elektrofirmen Südhessen E.V.” in Darmstadt was awarded the Joseph-Maria-Olbrich prize for outstanding architecture in Hesse.
Which architects were responsible for the design? A Darmstadt-based office, of course. Which steelwork company? Also based in Darmstadt, of course. And which stairs manufacturer? Based in... Salach, of course! We talked to the former project manager Uwe Ritter, architect and member of the executive board of the architect's office Planquadrat, about this fascinating building and its equally interesting interior.
The first thing you see when looking at the building is that the first floor projects adventurously over the entrance area. This design, which suggests easiness and lightness, was only possible because of its composite steel structure. You find it hard to believe your eyes – and to trust the structural calculation.
Steel stairs as a sculpture
Uwe Ritter said on this topic: "This steel structure provides for a very open design and a very flexible usage of the various floors. This is the apparent design feature. Another feature can be seen inside the building. When you stand in the light-flooded foyer, you see a sculpture rather than steel stairs. A dark grey-coloured monolith. We deliberately created a contrast to the orthogonal building structure.“
Ground projection of the steel stairs
The ground projection of the steel stairs is a rounded triangle, similar to the kidney-shaped tables from the fifties ...
"”The steel stairs have a soft shape and wind up in gentle curves. When you look at the ground projection, the geometry of the steel stairs appears to be relatively simple and clear: three stair flights, two intermediate landings. The three-dimensionality creates the spatial effect. The curved shape of the steel stairs contrasts with the austerity of the building and detaches from it. The steel stairs are self-supporting with only one bracing…“
And this was only possible with steel?
"”Yes, you need steel for such shapes. We had the idea that the balustrade should bear all loads alone. Without any additional underside stringer. Only two balustrades that swing upwards, with angled steel steps in-between, supporting the natural stone treads in a gently cushioned manner.“
You seem to love working with steel?
“Yes. Steel allows for very filigree structures. Instead of massive components you have very slim profiles which you can shape and bend as you please. This is what makes it so appealing.“
Uwe Ritter hesitates for a moment.
“… And if you walk on steel stairs they vibrate in a unique manner. Not that you become seasick. But you feel that they are swinging a little bit! It is very pleasant to walk on such stairs! Yes, we love working with steel.“
Why did you decide to work with MetallArt?
"We were obliged to conduct a restricted invitation of tender. Therefore, we were lucky that we were not forced to select the best-price bidder. The pricing of the MetallArt bid complied with the budget. It was actually the references that made us believe that they could do it!“
And looking back on the project?