»Intelligence starts with improvisation.«

Yona Friedman

Blog Building of the Week

The Void as Center

  • Stassfurt is a small town without a center. Due to catastrophic sinking, parts of the city dropped by up to six meters. (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 1 / 13  Stassfurt is a small town without a center. Due to catastrophic sinking, parts of the city dropped by up to six meters. (Photo: Hanns Joosten)
  • Following heavy mining underneath the city, the city center became unstable. Over 100 years, 800 buildings had to be torn down. 2 / 13  Following heavy mining underneath the city, the city center became unstable. Over 100 years, 800 buildings had to be torn down.
  • The question arose: can a lake and a park become the gravity center for this small town of 20,000 inhabitants? (Drawing: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects) 3 / 13  The question arose: can a lake and a park become the gravity center for this small town of 20,000 inhabitants? (Drawing: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects)
  • The grey gravel marks the location of the historic market place. (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 4 / 13  The grey gravel marks the location of the historic market place. (Photo: Hanns Joosten)
  • The lake cuts off the old paths, and now they end in terraces. (Photo: Häfner/Jimenez Landscape Architects) 5 / 13  The lake cuts off the old paths, and now they end in terraces. (Photo: Häfner/Jimenez Landscape Architects)
  • Before and after. (Photo: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects) 6 / 13  Before and after. (Photo: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects)
  • Before and after, too. (Photo: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects) 7 / 13  Before and after, too. (Photo: Häfner Jimenez Landscape Architects)
  • The transformation of the city center since the 1880s. 8 / 13  The transformation of the city center since the 1880s.
  • Aerial photograph of Stassfurt in 1929. 9 / 13  Aerial photograph of Stassfurt in 1929.
  • The lake measures 4,500 square meters. “The water‘s ballast is reminiscent of the raw crystalline salt that brought the city its prosperity, while taking away its historical centre” say the architects. (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 10 / 13  The lake measures 4,500 square meters. “The water‘s ballast is reminiscent of the raw crystalline salt that brought the city its prosperity, while taking away its historical centre” say the architects. (Photo: Hanns Joosten)
  • The former building site of the St. Johannis church is marked by perfectly horizontal lawn. Turf planters represent the footprint of the church tower, which was the town's landmark for over 500 years. (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 11 / 13  The former building site of the St. Johannis church is marked by perfectly horizontal lawn. Turf planters represent the footprint of the church tower, which was the town's landmark for over 500 years. (Photo: Hanns Joosten)
  • (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 12 / 13  (Photo: Hanns Joosten)
  • Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the lake via a bridge which was also designed by Häfner/Jimenez. (Photo: Hanns Joosten) 13 / 13  Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the lake via a bridge which was also designed by Häfner/Jimenez. (Photo: Hanns Joosten)

Granted, this is a rather unusual “Building of the Week” since buildings are not the topic here. Quite the opposite, actually: this is about tearing down the historic city center of Stassfurt in Eastern Germany and putting a small lake and a park in its place. 

Stassfurt dates back to the Middle Ages, but remained a tiny village until – during industrialization – the salt-beds underneath the town became tremendously valuable for the emerging chemical industry. Mining companies started to build tunnel after tunnel for systematic exploitation, and the town flourished. Alas, only for a short while. Due to a severe lack of knowledge (and a bit of greed), water entered many of the tunnels, which dissolved the salt and ruined the mining industry, and caused slow but catastrophic sinking. Between the 1880s and the 1960s, some areas of the city sunk by as much as six meters and more than 800 buildings had to be torn down, including the church and city hall. For any city this would cause a severe identity crisis, but in Stassfurt this also added to the economic decline after the end of the “Salt Rush.”

It proved to be very difficult to reach a decision about what could be done with the empty city center. For a long time in Stassfurt there was the dream of reconstruction, while the area remained unstable and therefore dangerous to use. It was also expensive to maintain, as the center had to be continuously drained. In 2005 the city's inhabitants decided to flood the city center, leaving everyone with the question: what makes a city center? Every other city answers this with one word: shopping! But can only a park constitute a city center, too?

The design of Berlin-based landscape architects Häfner/Jimenez combines a recreation area with a memorial. Traces of Stassfurt's history are left visible everywhere, such as the foundation of the church or parts of the former marketplace's pavement. The park is not intended to be an idyll; its layout is rather strict and ordered, an almost urban and an even somewhat brusque place. At the same time it is a reminder of the past and a free space, with manifold program possibilities for the present, like open-air festivals, markets, and meetings.

Maybe a city center doesn't need a dense urban fabric. Maybe an open space can also be the center. And maybe the “Building of the Week” doesn't always need to be a building.

www.haefner-jimenez.de

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