During several decades the architectural landscape of the Ruhr Valley towns in Germany has been dominated by neglected brown fields, industrial ruins and run-down postwar buildings. That is now becoming a thing of the past as architects from all over Europe complete their projects in the former coal-mining region.
ThyssenKrupp Quarter in Essen is part of a 230-hectare downtown area known as the Krupp belt. The site, kept for years as a wasteland, is a historic place. In 1818, Friedrich Krupp founded a cast steelworks on the same spot, which his son Alfred turned into a global company. Railway tracks were produced here for the United States, and less exciting but quite effective canons were casted in the area for two world wars. It is a place in German history that triggers mixed emotions to say the least. A less known but more interesting tip for architects: the huge 'gerberettes' designed by Rice, Piano and Rogers for the Pompidou Centre in Paris were also built at the Krupp furnaces, not far from Essen. Krupp was the only company in Europe who stood to the challenge of producing the big cast steel pieces that were to play a significant role in the structural concept of the Beaubourg.
ThyssenKrupp has built its new headquarters in this historic part of Essen at a total cost of 300 million euros. The technology giant, which employs 173,000 personnel in 80 countries, has no interest for skyscrapers. ThyssenKrupp’s chief expectation during the competition was that architects made the essence of its brand visible: transparency, innovation and far-ranging versatility. With the bulk of the masterplan finished this last summer, corporate culture and German industrial power welcome a new symbol.
There are three elements that deserve to be described in more detail in this post: the glass mullionless curtain walls in the centre of Q1, the sunshades at the external office areas also in Q1, and the flat-rolled steel cladding of buildings Q1 (inside the atrium), Q2 forum, Q5 and Q7 (as the main facade cladding). Let's go with the description, one at a time.
Panoramic windows at the atrium
The large atrium area of Q1 shimmers as a result of its pearl-metallic gold color internal cladding. But it is primarily the expansive volume of space that captivates. The 50 meter-high building, bonded from two L-shaped structures, is dominated by 'panorama windows', in fact two large tensed cable curtain walls. Both glass constructions are 28 meter high and 26 meter wide. The design and engineering of the panorama windows was done by Werner Sobek from Stuttgart. The facade contractor was Hefi Glaskonstructiv from Talheim, Germany.
|View of the main axis pool through the panorama window at Q1|
The structural solution followed here is quite similar to the Lufthansa Aviation Centre in Frankfurt, also by Werner Sobek, although in Frankfurt the only load-bearing elements are the vertically tensioned cables.
|Atrium with panorama window to the left|
The choice of glass was critical too: on the one hand it had to have solar control, while on the other it had to be clear with as little tinting as possible. To achieve the aim of maximum-possible transparency, a custom solution featuring insulated clear glass panes was selected. The structure is as follows: a) 12mm single-pane safety glass, b) 16mm inter-pane space, c) 2 x 8mm laminated safety glass with 1.52mm PVB film for solar control. The type of glazing chosen and the reduced support structure have resulted in an only 45 mm thick membrane that appears completely dematerialized. Despite being so thin, the glazed membrane met all thermal insulation requirements. I have not found any reference to argon fill in the glass cavity, but assume it is the case or the U-value would have been too high.
The images below show the section, elevation and concept details of the glass fixings.
ThyssenKrupp Q1 building: vertical section and panorama window glass elevation
|ThyssenKrupp Q1 building: vertical detail of fixing at glass crossing. Two cables run vertical, one cable (sectioned) runs horizontal. All screw heads are embedded on the cast steel piece.|
|ThyssenKrupp Q1 building: horizontal detail of fixing at glass crossing, and elevation detail of the external clamp. Two cables run vertical (sectioned), one cable runs horizontal.|
|The panorama windows viewed from inside|
It’s not just the two panoramic windows that contribute to the amount of light that floods the atrium: there is also a large window opening in the atrium roof, supported by a cable net. Its dual-curved outer skin measures approximately 21 x 21m.
The technology of pre-stressed cable net facades is not new, and it's a very German one. If you are interested, there is a good summary in pages 235 to 243 of the highly recommended thesis by Mic Patterson, 'Structural glass facades: a unique building technology'. The first and still best known example of this glass wall system is the lobby of the Kempinski Hotel at the Munich airport, designed by Helmut Jahn and engineered by Schlaich, Bergemann & Parters. The hotel lobby was completed in 1993 and still looks amazing 17 years afterwards. The cable net grid in Munich is much smaller than the one in Essen, but there is only one cable per direction, making the knots less visually imposing than those of the ThyssenKrupp atrium. One could say that the Sobek version is more imposing in size and less innovative in the fixing details than its SBP's counterpart. But Munich was a much less rigid, monolithic glass, not an insulated screen. In any case, at least to me, the real interest of Q1 does not lay on the panorama windows, but on a much humbler element: the sunshades of the office space all around the building.
Sun-shading movable slats
Our industry has been strongly discussing for some years about the energy irrelevance of double skin glass facades. Their former advantage in reducing U-values has been equaled by the triple-glass units with argon-filled cavities and high-performant coatings developed in the last decade. On the other hand, g-value or heat gain coefficient (the % of solar radiation that penetrates through the glass) remains as a serious problem for office buildings in summer period. Renzo Piano was the first one in introducing the 'mediterranean double skin', that is, a continuous glass facade with a set of sunshades on the outside for solar protection. An energy simulation study presented by Mikkel Kragh and Annalisa Simonella from Arup Facade Engineering at ICBEST 2007 has got to the same conclussion: there is no direct correlation between U-value and overall energy performance in a building with high internal heat gains, as an office building. In other words, the main driver is exposure to solar radiation.
The best answer from a energy and daylight perspective, even in a cold climate as the Ruhr Valley, is to combine a lowish Uw-value (around 1,2W/m2ºK for example, achievable with double glass units and high-performant thermally broken profiles) with an effective sunscreen. 'Effective' here means a screen that reduces solar gains when there is direct solar radiation but lets daylight in when there isn't. That is, a moveable sunscreen. Et voilà: this is the solution applied to ThyssenKrupp Q1 facades.
Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg. The energy study came out with a proposal to provide a constant horizontal overhang - useful for summer protection and as a catwalk - combined with a vertical set of twisting fins. The fins would twist to achieve an adjustable position between 0º (parallel to the facade: total direct radiation blocking) and 90º (perpendicular to the facade: maximum daylight penetration).
The great idea in this concept was to create a vertical fin made of horizontal cantilevered slats that were connected to a central stud, something similar to vertebrae in a spine. The cantilevered fins at each side of the stud can twist independently, as arms that rotate from widely open (0º) to parallel and intertwinned (90º). The final touch was to provide a shape for the fins that was non-rectangular, thus creating an interesting texture as the fins rotate along the day.
The sunshade elements have been manufactured by ThyssenKrupp Nirosta (the company branch for stainless steel) using a chromium- nickel-molybdenum stainless steel with high corrosion resistance called Nirosta 4404 (that is, EN 1.4404, equivalent to AISI 316L).
The manufacturing of the sun protection system must have been demanding. First, the metal strips were processed by ThyssenKrupp Umformtechnik, the group's automotive manufacturing unit. Then, Frener & Reifer, the facade contractor from South Tyrol mounted 116 to 160 slats onto each axis to form electrically driven slat packages. In the process, it was important that the slats remain movable in the center axis and react precisely to the signals of the electrical drive. It's funny that Frener & Reifer motto is 'Starting where others stop', completely adequate to this particular job. The facade contractors did also install the inner curtain wall, made with Schüco elements. Both skins in Q1, curtain wall and fins, are approximately 7,800m2 each.
The virtual animation at the Frener & Reifer page shows the movement game better than my words. The programming is really sensitive: the control system not only detects the seasonal sun position, but also knows what the current weather is like due to the data of a weather station located on the roof of Q1 building. On cloudy days, for example, all the slats will be turned outwards so that the sun shades remain open. Even when the slats are closed directly in front of the facade, employees can open the windows and access for maintenance is always possible.
This is a revolutionary design move, not in concept but in results: I suspect we will see many more moveable sun-shades in the near future. There is an interesting joint venture between Buro Happold and Hoberman, called Adaptative Building Initiative, that provides nothing but moveable facade elements to control solar gains and light levels at the same time.
External steel cladding
Sheet metal has long been considered a second rate cladding material – an impression the buildings of the ThyssenKrupp Quarter had to change. The final image of the buildings around Q1, finely glimmering in a champagne hue of metallic elements, consist of nothing other than sheets of steel.