The concepts of architecture vary depending on how one perceives it—Architects design space as per their beliefs and understanding of how the user might experience the particular space. To enhance the characteristics and features of the structure, architects adapt different architectural styles like Deconstructivism Architecture, Gothic Architecture, etc.

One such architectural firm with a unique understanding of architecture is SANAA. SANAA is an architectural firm located in Tokyo, Japan. They have been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize for their notable works in this field. SANAA is a collaboration of the two architects, i.e., architect Kazuyo Sejima and architect Ryue Nishizawa and their idea of simplicity. The architects tend to visualize the structure as one whole unit allowing free circulation and openness. They specify no hierarchy in their design, giving liberty to the user to decide how to interact with the space. They attempt to blur the wall between the interior and the exterior of the building by providing transparency through their design. They focus on building community public spaces that provide a common ground of interaction amongst the people. They make use of common materials with unique styles of construction, bringing art and science together. 

 “Our works of architecture are generally open in character. We make them open because we want to build relationships.“, quotes SANAA.

Zollverein School of Management and Design

Zollverein School of Management and Design by SANAA: Set inbetween history - Sheet1
Building Image_Introduction_©Petr Šmídek

Zollverein School of Management and Design is located in the city of Essen, Germany. This location has a history of the coal mining industry, though many years down the line due to exhaustion of minerals, these industries were shut down. Later on, some of these areas were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The surrounding city was then developed, becoming a suburban area with better infrastructure.

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Context image_Introduction_©Thomas Mayer

Zollverein School of Management was one of the selected works for the Pritzker Prize designed by SANAA. This school is part of the master layout designed by Rem Koolhaas. The school is a huge cube-shaped structure reflecting the surrounding industry’s design by then architects Schupp and Kremmer. It is a 35m X 35m X 35m cube with 150 openings in three different sizes. The built-up area of this structure is around 5000.00 sq. mt. and the plot area is around 14664.00 sq. mt.

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Exterior Facade__Introduction_©Thomas Mayer

Philosophy and Planning 

SANAA believes in free circulation in a structure with no partition walls, providing openness and allowing the user to freely use the space. This concept is seen applied in the Zollverein School of Management and Design. There are open floors without any walls letting the user make the space their own with a play of different floor heights. The facade is so designed that the multiple levels are not noticed from the exterior making it look like one giant cube.There are 4 floors in this structure; The Ground floor consists of the public spaces i.e., Reception, Auditorium, and Exhibition areas. The whole Second floor is dedicated to Studio spaces. This floor is especially an open floor with a higher height of 10 meters allowing students to use the space to its potential. The Third floor is for Seminar Halls and Library and the Fourth floor is for Offices and Conference rooms, separated by thin glass walls. The last floor is the Roof which acts as a viewing gallery for the industrial context.

The multiple punctures at different positions in different sizes give a surreal effect of light and shadow in the interiors and these openings bring in the view of the surrounding industrial landscape blurring the difference between the interior and the exterior.

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Light and Shadow_Philosohy_©Christian Richters
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Roof_Philosophy_©Iwan Baan

Construction

This school building does not follow the conventional column and beam method. To sustain the idea of open planning, SANAA designed the school as a load-bearing RCC structure with two circular columns, three staircases and lift cores. The concrete slabs are lightened with plastic balls and are heavily reinforced providing a span of 16 meters in length and a reduced depth of 50 centimeters thick. These systems run through a cavity that leaves a raised floor that goes up over the upper face of the slabs.

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Plastics Balls used in slabs_Construction_©Thomas Mayer

The load-bearing capacity is equally distributed among the external wall. The use of active insulation in between the walls allows reduced width along with keeping the facade temperature up to 27 degrees Celsius. This active insulation includes a hidden network of pipes that permits the circulation of the water; there is a thermal pit that is still used to pump water from the ground.

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Active Insulation_Construction_©SANAA

With this unique construction method and use of technology, it shows that SANAA along with their straightforward contemporary style approach, are very attuned to modern technologies.

Conclusion

Kazuyo Sejima quote: “As an architect, I feel it is part of our profession to use space as a medium to express our thoughts.

The design philosophy applied by SANAA might be the same in every structure but these structures stand unique in their existence. Their designed structure manages to interact smoothly with the context and can create a sense of experiential richness for the user.

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Ground floor_Floor plans_©SANAA
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Second floor_Floor plans_©SANAA
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Third floor_Floor plans_©SANAA
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Fourth floor_Floor plans_©SANAA
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Roof floor_Floor plans_©SANAA
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Section_Floor Plan_©SANAA
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Slab Detail_Construction_©SANAA
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Interior_Zollverein School_©Petr Šmídek
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Exterior_Zollverein School_©Christian Richters
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Context 2_Zollverein School_©Petr Šmídek
View_Zollverein School_©Iwan Baan

References: 

  1. Arquitectura Viva. 2022. Zollverein School of Management and Design, Essen – SANAA. [online] Available at: <https://arquitecturaviva.com/works/escuela-de-gestion-y-diseno-zollverein-essen-9> [Accessed 27 July 2022].
  2. Youtube.com. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcP8T6bPocM&t=87s&ab_channel=ErwinWiemer> [Accessed 26 July 2022].
  3. Youtube.com. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE088Lz5qEE&ab_channel=TheArchitectureProject> [Accessed 25 July 2022].
  4. Design, T., 2022. Archiweb – The Zollverein School of Management & Design. [online] Archiweb.cz. Available at: <https://www.archiweb.cz/en/b/skola-v-zollverein> [Accessed 27 July 2022].
  5. Basulto, D., 2012. Zollverein School of Management and Design / SANAA. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/54212/zollverein-school-of-management-and-design-sanaa> [Accessed 28 July 2022].
  6. Pritzkerprize.com. 2022. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at: <https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/2010> [Accessed 27 July 2022].
Author

Soundariya Shetty is an architect from Mumbai. She believes architecture is not limited to buildings, landscapes or its aesthetics, architecture is in every corner. She has high regards for sustainable architecture and strives to learn more to build her knowledge and understanding in this field by listening, reading and observing.

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