architectural project duhamel landmark | saarlouis _germany

published in ARCHITIZER

The black monolith in the Saartal

Duhamel slag heap is an artificial landscape made by humans. Erratic, coal-black and massive, it rises out of the Saar Valley, but despite its eminent visual presence it does not draw any attention to the invisible event, nevertheless actually occurring, namely the coal mining taking place underground. Kilometre-long underground gallery systems, pits and shafts remain invisible above ground. So the visible world above ground remains as a reference for us: The present and the history of coal mining in Saarland is mainly materialised above ground as 'architecture without architects', namely through steel conveyor systems and towers, long-span and partly mobile steel girder systems and bridges, thin steel cables, which provide conveying options for people and materials, not least through the smoking chimneys and immense blast furnace agglomerations in Voelklingen, Dillingen and elsewhere.

Its structural form obeys the logic of industrial design and the efficient production processes. However, this history manifests itself most impellingly and durably in the overburden, the mountainous, black tipped mounds, which have continued to grow, layer by layer for years and decades. A history and recollection of time is therefore written in these slag heaps, which now appear somewhat enigmatic, such as 'the black monoliths in the Saartal'. Their sheer size and landscape-characterising forming event are a visible expression of the main occurrence that has been taking place for decades, which is invisible because it takes place under the ground. The mounds, not only intellectually but also conceptually, also consolidate the life lived by generations of Saarland coalminers and their families.

In this respect, in its monumentality, its abstraction and its formal hardness, the Duhamel mound acts like a safe, which safeguards people's memories of a disappearing era of the industrialisation of Saarland. This abstraction and hardness, this mountainous heap-like atmosphere, coupled with the simultaneously effective compaction of memories, are what give this place its special and unmistakeable quality.

Intricacy, linearity and 'tensegrity'

On the flattened mound plateau of this rough and coal-black wasteland we are positioning a fine, intricate and compositionally balanced web of steel cables, bridges and steel truss-like towers. Their delicateness and linearity, their like electrically charged, shimmering immateriality form an extreme opposite to the compacted massive, monolithic, black coal slag heap. We transform the theme of mining conveyor systems and towers, the inclined hoists and cable winches into an airy, light, ephemeral overall composition which, due to its asymmetry, is in a delicate state of equilibrium. A slanting, steel truss tower carries the large viewing platform with café and adjoining rooms at a height of + 15 metres above the top of the mound, and the smaller panorama platform at + 50 metres above the top of the mound. In its inner core there is a rope-pulley driven inclined lift, which triggers associations of comparable conveying systems and towers in the industrial coal mining.

Linear outdoor mining museum

The café platform is either accessed via this inclined lift, or via a 100 metre long, inclined steel ramp. It is positioned on the precise location of the previous Duhamel pipe conveyor, cites its function as a "conveyor system into the outdoors" and therefore keeps alive the memory of the previous function of the mound and the Duhamel pipe conveyors in the double sense of the word. This ramp, comparable with a bridge structure say, is held in place and kept under tensile stress with the help of steel cables and a 115 metre high, slightly inclined, intricate, square steel truss mast. Along the 100 metre long rise to this ramp, on the right and left of it at ground level, there are weather-resistant, laser-engraved information boards on the history of mining in Saarland and the particular, local history of coal mining and processing on the Duhamel mound. Conceptually the exhibition on this long, straight way can be stage completely casually and meaningfully as an industrial-cultural journey through time.

Two structural design systems touch - almost

The ramp to the café platform is therefore suspended, tensioned, held by a slender mast, which is in dialogue with the transmission masts on the surrounding high ground. The café platform itself is subjected to compression, carried by the large, inclined steel trussed beam. Both structural systems touch at the short crossover from the ramp to the café platform, without actually structurally needing each other. A gap remains. This subtle motif of two structurally separate systems, which nonetheless technically form a useful unity, reflect the dialectic structure of the underground, and therefore invisible to the eye, coal mining, which is structurally closely linked to the engineering structures visible above ground: While on the one hand the more stable inclined trussed beam rises upwards from under ground, the slender mast, which carries the ramp like a suspension bridge, appears to strike the mound plateau from above like lightning. Due to these diverging directions of movement of the linear main element of our design, an energetically charged, spatiotemporal x-y-z coordinate axes: Strong emphasis of the verticality on the one hand, namely rising from the deep layers of base of the mound (inclined trussed beam) up into the lofty heights (transmitter mast motif). Horizontality extending far into the open space on the other hand (access ramp) and in the crossing point of this structural composition a wooden platform widening perspectively to the west, towards the afternoon sun. From here the view reaches France. Staged with far-reaching, linear spatial energy, the café building itself can have a very simple design: It cites the form of temporary, steel & wooden sheds, which were often used as control rooms in the mining conveyor systems.

It is this contrast between the simplicity, transparency and provisional nature of this café building set into the steel, spatiotemporal coordinate system and the spectacular natural space of the River Saar, which in future will lend this place the aspired to symbolic power, makes it elemental and will assist the sustainable transformation of this post-mining landscape, so steeped in tradition.

design concept _TIME:SPACE:CONVEYOR

infos under RAG

designed by _matthias karch

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