»Cultural Heart of Munich«: Architect Gunter Henn on the New Gasteig
What does the Gasteig mean for you as an architect?
As the largest cultural centre in Europe and an iconic location for the people of Munich, the Gasteig is both a unique building and a special project for our office. When it was originally designed in the 1960s and 70s, it was special in that it united so many different functions.
With the Gasteig, a cultural bastion was created, a shelter for cultural activity. With unusual attention to detail, a remarkable density of work was created, in which every element fulfilled a precise function; nothing was left to chance. That is a truly impressive achievement. For us architects, dealing with such a sophisticated building and programme and to rethink this historical place of culture and communication for the future represents a unique opportunity.
What was the central idea of your design?
Our design is based on two key concepts: openness and communication. In the new Gasteig, the aim is not only to strengthen individual points of communication inside the building, but also to create a connection to the outside, to the public space. Through the transparent »cultural stage«, the cultural centre opens itself up to the city, so that every visitor is both a guest and a co-creator in this multifaceted meeting place. Inside, too, the boundaries between the spaces with their specific functions are dissolved and open up towards each other.
In today’s world, it is not walls that protect us, but openness and communication. How do you create permeability and merge the vibrant diversity inside with the urban world outside? The exterior will not change too much: we want the outer appearance of the historical building to remain familiar to those who know the Gasteig. What we have here is more than just a renovation project; the structural changes are necessary to create a cultural centre of the future.
How do you plan the rooms for the various bodies at home in the Gasteig in this context?
For the new library, we have followed innovative role models from Holland and Finland: libraries that are places of focussed education and entertainment, but also of lingering and of exchange. Books on open display, pleasant reading areas that encourage reading, smooth transitions between interior and exterior space – we are witnessing a true renaissance of libraries. The Volkshochschule adult education centre will also be opened up and easily accessible, and the terrace will have access from outside. Whether from inside or outside, anyone and everyone can interact with the building and gain a connection to the city through the Gasteig. The Philharmonic Hall will become festive and flexible, for performances of the Munich Philharmonic and pop concerts alike. We did not want to give the Philharmonic Hall a completely new appearance. Firstly, this would have been much too expensive and secondly, it would have ignored the significance of the place as a piece of popular Munich tradition. We want both the old and the new to be visible. A symbiosis with the original architecture is particularly important to us. An essential part of the overall concept are the so-called »performance staircases«, on which events and performances can take place. With these centrally located and freely accessible elements, we are also creating places where communication and interaction can take place.
How did you approach the task set in the tender?
We have rearranged and reassembled the complicated and varied assemblage of spaces and functions. The new cultural stage allows people to experience the simultaneity of the various functions. This new element is radically simple and gives the Gasteig a whole new quality.
What will the renovated Gasteig represent after its completion?
As a collective place, today’s Gasteig is a role model, a utopia become reality. The renovated Gasteig should stand for openness, communication and accessibility, but also for a new international perception and recognition of this iconic cultural location in Munich. We are pursuing the twin aim of attracting people to visit Munich especially for the Gasteig and for them to go there for no particular reason other than to experience it, meet others and let themselves be surprised by the wide variety of activities and opportunities for interaction.
The Gasteig also embodies the democratisation and mediation of culture. This is a central feature of the project: it is not an exclusive place; everything is designed to be inclusive. To have a Philharmonic Hall right next to an adult education centre is something very special. Everyone is welcome here, and the Gasteig needs people in order to be this pulsating cultural heart of Munich. Culture is an important stabilising element of a functioning society. In this sense, the Gasteig has a central social mission. The charisma of this venue extends beyond the city boundaries and symbolises a European project: this eclectic diversity and density of cultural activity in a public building, with its interwoven functions, is unique. The scientists Armin Nassehi and Alexander Görke speak of the »simultaneity of the different«; that is where the Gasteig must go.
What is special for you about working with a renowned acoustician like Yasuhisa Toyota?
This cooperation was a great pleasure for us and we learned a good deal in working with him. Acoustics is quite simple, as Yasuhisa Toyota claims: it is primarily all about »form and material«. The form for the Philharmonic Hall and the Carl Orff Hall, both overall and in detail, was developed in the course of many joint working meetings an in productive interaction. From the interplay of highly technical acoustics and creative design, the Philharmonic Hall will now become an instrument in its own right.
What social, urban and architectural developments and movements did you address with your design?
In terms of urban planning, the design very consciously takes account of the surroundings. Opening up the cultural centre aims to reinforce its connection to the residential area. Overall, the theme of space – the ›generosity‹ of space – is a key aspect. Especially in a city like Munich, where space is becoming increasingly difficult to afford, creating a space for thought, communication and education is a valuable endeavour.
Have you drawn inspiration from exemplary cultural buildings anywhere in the world for the Gasteig’s architectural design?
Our team has used many reference projects for inspiration. These include a few examples from Scandinavia, such as the »Blox« in Copenhagen. This building also combines various public and cultural functions; people meet there for an entire afternoon, wander about and enjoy some of the many available offerings.
We analysed iconic places like Paris’ Centre Pompidou, but that too, is missing the true interlacing of the different functions that we would like to see today. Like the Gasteig, the Centre Pompidou was deliberately built as a bastion. Our goal today is a continuous opening up and interaction of the existing spaces; because the Gasteig is, even by international comparison, an absolutely unique project in terms of diversity and functional abundance.
Imagining the Gasteig in 10 years’ time, what do you see?
I imagine a colourful and vibrant urban place, an international benchmark for cultural and communication venues, and hopefully new functions that we cannot even guess at today and which will show that the Gasteig is not only a meeting place but also a centre of innovation. I imagine that when tourists are asked about the reason for their trip, they no longer say »Oktoberfest« but »Gasteig«!
Interview and photos: Benedikt Feiten