Designing a new building in the historical center of an old European town can easily turn into a nightmare, trying to satisfy both the clients, the public, the city and the strict building rules usually attached to such projects. For some architects though it can be a creative challenge, one they will use to give their very best to us and the world. Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas rose to the occasion in Meinz, Germany, producing a modern mixed-use edifice in its historical inner city that raised praises by locals (and in Germany this is high praise indeed), the clients, the users and the critics.
The building complex is located in the middle of the city center. Its existing “historical” facade faces the 1,000 year-old Cathedral of Mainz (Mainzer Dom), its main landmark. Its new facade would face the Rebstockplatz. The area is typical of the kind one finds in many European city centers: neutral mid 20th century buildings, hasty planning, typical restorations of damaged old buildings. The sometimes eclectic mix tends to be favored by most people as charming and giving character.
Fuksas uses the steep raked roof typical of Northern Europe, and designed an incredible outer skin, made of white lamellated ceramic bars, dotted with a multitude of windows in various asymmetrically placed spots. Leaving the old ad restored façade free at the front, the rear is emerging elegant and lightweight despite its size. The semi- transparency of the skin helps a lot in this, as well as the distance between this and the building underneath.
The interior is a halfclosed inner courtyard, a weather-protected „Piazzetta “. This was designed as a half-open, spatially graduated free space, which extends from the underground level over the ground level and the third level, including terraces and access level for the offices and residences, up to the glass roof. The “Piazzetta“ becomes a place of communication between the individual functions of the building. This connection is strengthened by the verticality of the white steles, shaped sculptures which direct the view of the visitor upward thus creating a visible connection between the levels.
All areas in the ground floor including trade and service are accessible for pedestrians from the atrium space as well as from the street. An escalator in the atrium brings you into the underground level with its shops. Residences and offices not attached directly to the stairways are accessible through daylight provided hallways covered with indoor pergolas. One can only imagine the incredible views of the city and the cathedral that the balconies and terraces of the upper level appartments offer to their inhabitants.
The project was not made without problems. The usual one with such cases: acceptance by the locals. On the initial presentation of the designs for the project, many doubts were raised by people attending the meetings. Now that the building is complete, and people got to see it inside out, it is fast becoming a favorite. Of course one can never please everybody, but this is the nature of architecture – and art in general.