Catching a wave in Frankfurt

Nick Myall
Friday 20 Jan 2017

schneider+schumacher have combined urban design, architecture and art in Germany

Even from a distance, the new sculpture in the office complex “die welle” draws attention to itself, inviting further exploration. It is an attraction that promotes the urban integration of the office complex within the adjacent inner city district.

The project remit was to redesign the external landscaped area in order to enhance the office complex "die welle“, located close to the Alte Oper in Frankfurt am Main. It was the name of the complex that sparked the initial idea for schneider+schumacher’s design. The architects decided to take this concept further and at the same time, to explore it in more depth: in the form of a three-dimensional wave that not only defines the space and attracts attention, but also creates an inviting place where people will want to be, therefore revitalising the area. “When we see something onto which we can project our own images, experiences and memories, it conjures up associations and emotions. It awakens our interest”, explains Prof. Michael Schumacher, who, together with Till Schneider, runs the architectural practice schneider+schumacher.

The resulting aluminium sculpture consists of six elements that flow, wave-like, through the entire length of space that runs between the main buildings. Three of these elements prise themselves away from the floor as arches of differing heights. Arriving from the Opernplatz, a “diving arch”, some seven metres in height first appears followed by the “glorious arch”, nearly 18 metres high, which twists to form a semi-circular arena.

A few metres on, the aluminium sculpture somersaults into a seven metre-high “joyful wave” before continuing more calmly as “flowing wave 1 and 2”, and then petering out in a last “chill-out wave”.

A new light-coloured asphalt floor surface running through the site further underpins the wave concept, and it appears to be a liquid, following its natural course. In a similar vein, and in keeping with the context, schneider+schumacher created four benches. Each one is made out a single straight piece of wood, which, owing to the way it is notched, can be bent into a wave-like form.

In the design process, certain geometric rules had to be followed to allow the shapes of the arches and edges to be later manufactured. This meant employing a parametric system, to transform the initial sketch on paper into a geometric form, so that it could be more easily implemented in practice. Using a computer programme, this parametric design meant that the building elements could be optimised and then tested, to check how they affected the system as a whole. This resulted in a detailed construction plan, which formed the basis for the ensuing crafting process.

The entire finished sculpture comprises two kilometres of welded seams that all in all weighs around 100 tonnes. A special process had to be developed so that the seams could be welded on one side only, without causing any distortion.

This redesign is another example of the architectural office’s “pragmatic poetry” design philosophy, which thrives on clarity of construction, an earnest approach to solving the architectural brief, and a delight in good detailing.


Nick Myall

News editor

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