The landscape around the village of Hinzert is an idyll in a German countryside characterized by smooth hills and agriculturally used fields. No original traces refer to its use between 1939 and 1945 when the site was a Special Camp for political prisoners from more than 20 countries. The prize-winning project from Wandel Hoefer Lorch + Hirsch questions the political and territorial deformations of the landscape: a document center including archives, research library, seminar and exhibition spaces. The architects, internationally celebrated for their new synagogue in Dresden, continue with this new project their specific interest in the relation between material strategies and their conceptual potential.
The architects designed an unconventional project that seamlessly blends intuition and rational development strategies. The 43-meter-long structure occupies a gentle slope, rising from two to seven meters in height. The all-in-one structure, roof and façade consists of over three thousand different triangular plates of 12-millimeter Corten steel. These were welded together in a workshop to form twelve large elements that were then assembled on site. The angles between the individual panels were calculated to ensure that the elements have an adequate structural height and that the entire construction forms a rigid folded plate.
The reddish brown envelope encases an elongated exhibition space, a seminar room, a library, an archive and offices, with lines of sight giving the impression of a single spatial unit. The design process was developed from the inside towards the outside. Around the central exhibition-archive space a series of ‘pockets’ -containing archive units, large exhibits and small research cells- push the volume outwards into the landscape. As a shelter that protects historic material and relics, the Document Centre is a rather introverted building, only opening up to the landscape on the valley side. The opening defines the exact position of the building in the landscape and describes a precise viewpoint: a cross-fade from a historical photography to the contemporary perspective.
The inner skin consists of triangular birch plywood panels, in which photographs and text are inscribed by a direct printing process: documents are not applied to the building, but directly linked to it like a contemporary form of fresco. Insulating the document center´s wooden interior from the exterior steel plate construction and making the triangular windows flush with the outer skin as well as openable and frameless, required the development of specifically constructed prototypes.