Part 3 or our topic series
“People – Spaces – Emotions”

Outdoor space in the Context of Architecture

In our series “People – Spaces – Emotions”, we delve into the many facets of public space. After the expert interviews on the “Meaning and Use of Outdoor Spaces” as well as “Urban Public Spaces”, in this issue we will dedicate ourselves to “Outdoor Space in the Context of Architecture”. For this we have had a detailed discussion with Prof Eckhard Gerber from the architectural office of the same name Gerber Architekten in Dortmund, Germany.

“Uncovering the uniqueness and constant evolution of a place and giving it a fresh interpretation shapes our design work .” Eckhard Gerber, architect, Dortmund

Buildings and exterior space are interlinked in many different ways  

Buildings and exterior space have been closely interwoven with each other sincethe early days of architecture and maintain interdependence characterised by versatility. Already in the site selection, a building enters into a dialogue with its immediate surroundings, integrating itself into the existing topography through its structure, form, and size in order to create exciting visual relationships between the inside and outside.

The design is developed from the surroundings of the place

Buildings that have been designed conceptually and creatively, taking into account the local characteristics, history and special features, the so-called “genius loci”, stand as architectural masterpieces.
A carefully coordinated selection of building materials, such as steel, concrete, wood, natural stone or glass, and the deliberate use of design resources such as openness, contrast, transparency, colour and light determine the design of the interior andexterior spaces. Views to the outside make it possible to experience the specific characteristics of the location and create memorable impressions of the space.

The exterior as an image factor

For a number of years, exterior space has become increasingly important as an image carrier for universities, business, administrative and industrial locations: Exterior space is being rediscovered as a planning tool for upgrading the qualit yof open spaces.
This new awareness of exterior space and its role as an impetus and an integral part of an overall concept enriches the structural appearance, makes it attractive for users and creates identity.

The inside and outside as a design unit

The inside and outside as a design unit interweaving of buildings as a place to live or work and the quality of open spaces isincreasingly important, especially for new construction projects. The resulting high structural density in cities and municipalities increases people’s need for attractive living and recreational areas as expressions of aliveable environment.
In many current urban and industrial projects, the building and adjoining exterior space form a planning and design unit. Both elements complement each other into a functional and aesthetic whole, adding lasting urban and architectural value.
Photo 1: Employment Office Dortmund (GER): Two building wings run along the streets forming an angle, leaving a large part of the site shielded from the adjacent streets as a public green space. The tension between city and landscape as a basic design feature is also reflected in the façades, which are closed and clad with stones towards the outside but are filigree and transparent towards the park. (1995 Completion / 1988 Open Competition 1st Prize / Gerber Architekten. Photo: Gerber Architekten/Heiner Leiska)
Photo 2: Terrific open view from the Volksbank in Krefeld (GER). (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Hans Georg Esch)
Photo 3: The floor-to-ceiling glass façade of the University of Würzburg (GER) offers a view into the nearby vineyards. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Dieter Leistner)
Photo 4: The campus of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen (GER) and public urban spaces are tied together artistically to form one unit. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Hans Georg Esch)
Photo 5: With its great differences in height, the topography of the immediate vicinity of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen (GER) is included as a defining element in the design of the inner courtyards. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Hans Georg Esch)

Expert interview

Prof. Eckhard Gerber

About the relation between architecture and exterior space we have had a detailed discussion with Prof. Eckhard Gerber from the architectural office of the same name Gerber Architekten in Dortmund.

What role does outdoor space play in planning a building?

Gerber: Our goal has always been to view buildings and landscape as a unit. In this respect, the exterior space has a very high priority for us.We are nearly the only office in Germany that also plans outdoor areas and outdoor installations in our own office. We have a separate department for this – just for landscape planning.

What design approaches contribute to successful integration of architecture and landscape into a given urban situation?

Gerber: This is a very broad field. Certain design approaches can’t be formulated for outdoor installations, because there are not very many features to work with. Those of importance are the topography, walls, stairs, high and low plantings such as trees and hedges, and green lawns or cobbled open spaces.

How are existing urban development structures integrated into design concepts for
new buildings and related outdoor areas?

Gerber: Each structural task starts with ananalysis of the site and its circumstances, the orientation, the topography, the issue of perspective, existing landscape elements and built spatial borders. All these are fundamental factors forplanning a new building and the associate doutdoor areas.

In your opinion, is there an example that stands out, and what is special about it?

Gerber: As a matter of fact, I could provide the example of Parc de la Vilette inParis, which opened in 1983. It was a large international competition, and this contest signalled the kick-off for a whole new design approach in landscape planning, namely the “rediscovery” of geometrical forms and elements that had been taboo for decades. This kind of design was a matter of course from the baroque to the classical period. Subsequently, principles of the English landscape garden became more and more established in open-space design.
An essential prerequisite for the design ofan urban or built space is its drainage. In all earlier examples, the design of a square went hand-in-hand with drainage. For example, for the square of Siena or the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, the entire pictorial design of these squares resulted from the flow of water. This is abasic function for a square and even today is a very important aspect of square design.

Many construction projects aim for harmonious interaction between the interior and exterior. What kind of advantages result from this harmony?

Gerber: A harmonious outcome should alwaysbe the result of what we do, so that people can enjoy it. On the one hand, interplay between buildings and landscape and between interior and exterior is important due to the existing topography, which should be incorporated into the building as much as possible, and, on the other hand, is also essential for the orientation in a building. This is done entirely through the perspective to the outside so that, in this way, the most beautiful views possible are staged and presented.

What effect does an attractive fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces have?

Gerber: I would like to answer this by describing a project that has always fascinated me: the Spa House (Kurhaus) in Badenweiler (GER), which dates back to the 60sand 70s of the 20th century. Badenweiler is an old spa town with a castle ruin on a hill. The Spa House is located just below the castle at the foot of the hill in a park.
Due to the topography, it is possible to enter the building on different levels. In the centre of the Spa House is a glass hall which connects all the floors and is flooded with light. Entering the building on the lowest level, you can look up through the glass roof of the hall to the castle ruins on the hill. A massive natural stone staircase connects all the floors, giving the impression of the castle flowing over this staircase into the building.
This is a very unusual example of successful combination of the inside and outside that often influences me personally in my work. Through the aesthetic interlacing of interior and exterior spaces, spaces are created that affect people emotionally and make spaces tangible.
Photo 1: The architecture staged the view into the surrounding landscape of the University of Würzburg. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Dieter Leistner)
Photo 2: The radial structure of the square of Siena serves primarily as drainage. The water flows to the central bottom point of the shell located there. (Photo: Fotolia/jarre)
Photo 3: The Spa House Badenweiler (GER): It is not a building in the park, the whole building is just landscape - the whole roof surfaces are terraces or green areas. (Photo: Badenweiler Thermen und Touristig GmbH/Karin Schmeißer)
Photo 4: The view from the glass hall of the spa house in Badenweiler (GER) extends from the lowest level up to the castle ruins on the hill. (Photo: Inbenieurbüro Stahl+Weiß Freiburg)
Photo 5: The very open and light-flooded interior spaces of the state and university library in Göttingen (GER), covering several floors, affords a variety of visual relationships to the outside. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Peter Walser)

Does it also work to deliberately create contrasts?

Gerber: This is the basic principle of art and architecture. Beautiful pictures stand out by establishing a contrast and then bringing this contrast into harmony again. We work with contrasts, that is, with opposites that together create harmony.
This is art.

If you plan a building with associated external space, how do you approach it as a project?

Gerber: We have such a great profession. We start each task playfully, after prior analysis, of course. We build models and Experiment with blocks and volumes to find out which cubature best fits together or contrasts with other existing factors such as buildings, existing plantings and topography.
At the same time, we are concerned with the task and the program requirements: what is required, what are the conditions, what do we have to look out for with regard to development, cardinal points, perspectives and much more. What kind of space is there, which space should be open, what part of it should be outside space and what should be interior space? How are these spaces linked together functionally? And to what extent can the topography and the surrounding area be included in the building?
By taking stock of all these things, conceptions are developed piece by piece, allowing highly complex tasks to eventually become logical and harmonious. Then we areable to further develop a coherent concept.

Does the history of the place play a role in your projects?

Gerber: Yes, of course. If we are building in a historical setting, we conduct ourselves quite differently than if we are working “on a blank canvas”, so to speak.
When building on an existing site, one thing is fundamental: change as little as possible in the basic concept and basic disposition of a building – a very simple principle. This Point is easily conveyed to the developers, because only respectful handling of the origina lbuilding structure makes it possible to develop authentic new solutions.

Are there “fixed parameters” that you need to adhere to or that can be found in
all your work?

Gerber: I start with four principles of form: the closed cube, the framework (supports ,beams), the hovering roof and freely facing walls. These principles can be connected to one another as desired: for example, the hovering roof over walls facing each other like in the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies vander Rohe (World Exposition 1929).
In addition, there are the three Basic geometric shapes – square, triangle, circle. You can derive the free curved form from the circle and the free bent form from the triangle, which means there are five forms to choose from – three geometrical and two free ones. The declination of the four design principles with the five forms provides an infinite variety of design possibilities, which we can also find very nicely in the entire work of Mies van der Rohe.
That is actually the entire foundation of architecture. Every architectural work and virtually all of modern architecture is based on these design principles.

More than ever, new buildings for company locations, university buildings or local governments are an expression of a mission statement and a corporate identity. How does this influence your work and design?

Gerber: If we are planning a building for a company, we want to know what philosophy underpins the company. We have to determine how to present the structure of the building – understated or imposing? In doing so, many facets and subtle nuances must be taken into account in order to filter out how strongly pronounced a building should be – for example, prestigious, purely functional or rather understated.
To find out what is important to clients and how they feel means engaging with people and the company philosophy. In our diverse and multilingual world, we as architects should be able to find the design language that aligns with the client.
We just won a competition for a major project: Allianz Insurance in Stuttgart. The company is planning its headquarters there for 4500 employees with the concept “New Working Worlds”. In the decision for the competition, the company philosophy played an important role in assessing the individual submissions.
We won them over with our design. It represents what the company wants to be in the future: open to the outside as a part of the public, and with open, free and flexible working worlds for the employees on the inside.
A great quality of the design is the spatial experience within the “New Working Worlds”, which is characterised by a wide range of perspectives in the inner courtyards generously landscaped in green as well as in the surrounding landscape and throughout the entire complex.

What role do materials play for you in regard to the building and outside space?

Gerber: We completed a beautiful project in the 1970s and 1980s, the Civic Centre(Stadthalle) in Hagen (GER). It stands at the edge of an old stone quarry, a broken-out oval, in a unique landscape with standing rock walls and many isolated boulders.
The civic centre completes this form of the quarry. Through our design, we succeeded in letting this special stone and rock landscape flow into the foyer of the hall, making it and the outside space of the quarry practically one unit. We even placed rock boulders in the foyer and incorporated the bedrock in the structure of the building.
This resulted in an interplay between the built structure and the natural rock landscape. In addition, we designed the building itself entirely out of glass, which in turn contrasts as a fragile material with the crag and Stone sfrom the immediate surroundings.
According to the commission, the Civic Centre was to be placed into the oval of the quarry, with rocks some 50 to 60 meters high in some cases. I did not do that. Rather, I deliberately placed the Civic Centre in front on the edge so that it also has a visual relationship to the city. The oval itself was preserved as a scenic open space and recreational area.

What role does the value of the materials play?

Gerber: Each material has its own features and leaves an impression or feeling. Glass, for example, is fragile and transparent; stone is hard and solid.
Constructing a building from only one material can also have a special charm. One of our first school buildings was built completely with exposed concrete, both inside and out. In doing this, we placed great importance on having all doors and cabinets as coloured wood elements to contrast with the concrete walls. Through this interaction, a friendly and stimulating atmosphere emerges in the school building in terms of both look and feel.
Wood always has a special value, especially for the interior. I am also referring to natural wood flooring, wood ceilings and wood walls. Every natural material, including natural stone, has high perceived value.
When you take a material like concrete, concrete blocks or terrazzo flooring, that is a perceived value that is altogether different. It is not correct to say that one material is more valuable than the other – it has to be matchedto the use and the context.
In this sense, you have to re-adjust the material selection from project to project. This is also a question of the philosophy
of the company and the developer.
Photo 1: With the above-described method of designing buildings and space, orderly insight into the structure of the multilingual architecture of modernity is achieved. The project of Gerber Architecten in Ascona (CH), for example, is based on the principle of mullion supports and beams. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Jürgen Landes)
Photo 2: The design of the new Allianz headquarters in Stuttgart (GER) features a wide range of views between interior and exterior in the generously landscaped inner courtyards. (Photo: Gerber Architekten)
Photo 3: With its generously open outdoor spaces, this concept won the competition for the new building complex for Allianz Insurance in Stuttgart (GER). (Photo: Gerber Architekten)
Photo 4: In order to establish a visual relationship to the city of Hagen (GER), the Civic Centre was deliberately built at the edge of the quarry (1st prize in 1974, completion in 1981). (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Peter Walser)
Photo 5: Like a finely cut crystal, the Civic Centre in Hagen (GER) rises from the rocky landscape of the quarry and presents itself as a successful interplay of contrasting materials. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Peter Walser)
Photo 6: The open line of sight to Johanniskirche [St John’s Church] in the centre of the city of Hagen (GER). (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Peter Walser)

Light is gaining in importance as a design element. How important is light in terms
of design and atmosphere in your projects?

Gerber: Light, whether daylight or artificial light, is always a very important part of our work. Daylight is a significant factor in determining the alignment of the buildings and spaces. When daylight is no longer sufficient, it must be supplemented or replaced as optimally as possible by artificial light. With the use of artificial light, buildings and space can be staged in a precisely atmospheric manner.
The change between day and night isoften a wonderful experience. If, for example, I see an old house in the sunlight during the day and then again in the evening, when it is illuminated, it is a completely different experience.
The use of light is a very exciting subject; you have to work at it in order to achieve optimal results. Precise planning is required to illuminate a building successfully both internally and externally. This is not only true about the building itself, but also about trees and plants, which can also be accentuated. A great deal can be achieved here too with appropriate lighting.

How important are luminaires that can do more than provide light?

Gerber: Luminaires with additional functions such as built-in loudspeakers, cameras and WLAN are gaining in importance, especially against the backdrop of the “Smart City”. These aspects have intensified to a great extent in recent years.
Luminaires whose design makes it possible to accommodate such additional functions in a way that makes sense are particularly appealing.

How important is the daylight effect for you, in other words the design of a luminaire
in the outdoor space?

Gerber: The design is remarkably important, because the luminaire is also there during the day when it is not shedding light. The design should be adapted to the Location and environment.

What is the importance of illuminating buildings or specially designed exterior spaces?

Gerber: When I go to my home in Eisenach in Thuringia and see the illuminated hilltop castle Wartburg in the evening, it is simply wonderful! I cannot imagine not illuminating architectural structures like that today.
When we designed the TV and radio building for public broadcaster MDR in Magdeburg, we ensured that the entire broadcasting Station had open views through a large glass hall facing the Magdeburg Cathedral – one of the most important Gothic edifices in Europe. The cathedral also had to be illuminated, of course. It is the real visual relationship from this broadcasting studio, which was important to me. When a talk show takes place in the building, the cathedral can be seen in the background.
As an architect, I can create such a visual relationship and when the cathedral can be seen for an hour in the background of a talk show, then emotions are evoked in the viewers, leaving a lasting impression.
Thank you for the interview,
Prof Gerber.
Photo 1: View from the RWE Tower on to the St. Reinoldi Church in Dortmund (GER). / The aesthetic interlacing of interior and exterior spaces creates places and spaces that affect people emotionally and which deserve to be well lit both by day and by night, as here in the case of the Dortmund Volksbank. (Photos: Gerber Architekten/Jürgen Landes)
Photo 2: The Wartburg Castle in Thuringia (GER) now gloriously illuminated at night. (Photo: Fotolia/hecke71)
Photo 3: View from the hall of the Magdeburg MDR broadcasting studio in the direction of the Cathedral. (Photo: Gerber Architekten/Jürgen Landes)

About Gerber Architekten

The goal of Gerber Architecten as a team of architects, urban planners, landscape designers, engineers and interior designers is to create places that affect people and awaken their desires, places people like to visit and linger in, spaces that are tangible and accessible as amatter of course.
These should be structures that improve the urban and landscaped environment with their beauty and simplicity and contain exciting spatial arrangements which are clear and natural with regard to the orientation from outside in and inside out.
With 50 years of experience, Gerber Architekten can offer a wealthof expertise and competence. The office currently employs a staff of 170 organized in project teams consisting of architects, engineers, interior designers, and landscape designers in the offices in Dortmund, Hamburg, Berlin, Riyadh and Shanghai.

About Professor Eckhard Gerber

1938 Born in 1938 in Oberhain, Thuringia
1959 - 1966 Study of architecture at the Technical University Braunschweig, Scholar of the Promotional Association of the company of Reemtsma, Hamburg
1966 Founding of the office “Werkgemeinschaft 66”
1973 - 1975 Graduate Teaching Assistant University of Dortmund Chair Prof. Deilmann
1975 Advancement Award for Young Artists of the State of North-Rhine Westphalia for 1974 in the Field of Urban Development and Architecture
since 1979 Gerber Architekten in Dortmund-Kley, successful participation in competitions in Germany and abroad, numerous architectural prizes for implemented buildings
1981 - 1992 Professor at the University of Essen – GHS – in the disciplines of fundamentals of design and applied design theory for architecture and landscape management
1990 - 2004 Professor at the University of Wuppertal in the disciplines of fundamentals of design and drafting for architecture
1992 - 2010 Chairman of the Dortmund Art Association
1995 - 1999 Dean of the University of Wuppertal, Department of Architecture
2004 - 2012 Professor in the disciplines of fundamentals of design and drafting in the master programme REM & CPM at the University of Wuppertal
since 2008 Gerber Architekten Hamburg, from 2012 with landscape planning
2011 Advisory Board of the City of Bielefeld
since 2012 Gerber Architekten international GmbH in Berlin
since 2013 Gerber Architekten international Asia GmbH in Dortmund
Member of BDA [Association of German Architects], DWB [German Association of Craftsmen], regular service as jury chair at national and international competitions, spokesman at national and international conferences.