Zeche Zollverein - O.M.A.

The office of Rem Koolhaas, O.M.A., is well known for all kinds of landmarks and iconic buildings they designed, as well as their speculative sociograhics. And for simply being famous, of course. The thing is, I cannot be bothered too much with yet another sexy looking tower-striving-to-be-the-next-landmark-of-some-boring-town. I am more intrigued by the masterplan they did for Zeche Zollverein in the Ruhrgebiet area in Germany.

Zollverein was a coal plant, like the region has several. Until 1983 coal was being dug here, and in 1988 the coal refinery plant stopped functioning as well. A vast industrial area became defunct. Nobody quite knew what to do with the site, but the authorities were wise enough to buy it from the previous owners, and getting it listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. But still, what to do with it? Just leave it as a park? Convert it to another function?

The masterplan O.M.A. came up with is as simple as it is strong. To conserve the atmosphere of the site, it was decided that new structures would only be allowed to be added to the perimeter of the site, making a walled city (which it pretty much was in the past, too). Over the years, this band of buildings will graduately develop further, making a harder edge. The functions of the new buildings will mainly be about art and culture. Like one of the first new buildings: the Zollverein School of Design, designed by SANAA.

So much for the new structure, what about the old? By locating all the new stuff in the perifery of the terrain, the old buildings can keep their position and impact on the visitors. And the reprogramming is rather simple: art, culture and tourism. The old buildings itself serve as a beautiful backdrop for all of these activities. And how to get around in that massive area? Again, simple and strong: the old railway tracks are serving as footpaths, linking all the main buildings. The centre-piece is the old coal-washery (which probably isn't the correct term), which is transformed by O.M.A. themselves into the Kohlenwäsche Museum and Visitors Centre. I have no doubt that the Zollverein-area will be one of the central places in 2010, when the entire Ruhrgebiet is the European Capital of Culture.

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