Zeche Zollverein Wayfinding

Honor Award

Zeche Zollverein is an abandoned coal mine in Essen, Germany, in the Ruhrgebiet, once the country’s industrial heartland. Shut down in 1986, it was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2001 due to its significance as a coal-mining operation as well as its design features, including several 20th century buildings of architectural significance.

Following a 2002 master plan by OMA/Rem Koolhaus, the area is developing into an important center for culture and design. Essen has been chosen as the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2010, and Zollverein will be the main event location.

The 100-hectare complex (the size of 140 soccer fields) now accommodates museums, more than 100 companies, several event locations, and a design school built in 2007. Since a Europe-wide design competition in 2005, the Zollverein Park project has been designed and implemented by a team of communication designers, landscape architects, lighting designers, and artists. The challenge of the wayfinding system was to meet the needs of 500,000 visitors each year while working within stringent regulations for monument conservation. The system also had to identify buildings and features in two languages (German and English) and include both historic and new building names. The system uses a wide variety of tools to aid wayfinding, from human beings to sign panels, cast-iron miniature models, maps, ground markings, lighted panels, and printed media.

The team first cleared the area of all existing signs, posts, and panels. They divided the park into three subdistricts: Shaft XII, Shaft 1/2/8, and the Coking Plant. A parking guidance system leads visitors to their relevant entrance, where the wayfinding system takes over.

First, a series of tenant panels at the periphery of the park identify locations of interest, list tenants, and provide takeaway materials. Pavilions at the park’s entrances house 3D, 1:715-scale steel models of the entire area, providing topographical reference. Printed maps and ground markings lead visitors to specific buildings or sites, where more miniature models provide building and site details.

To make the wayfinding communications internationally understood, the team added Roman letter designations corresponding to the three subdistricts (A, B, and C) and Arabic numbers to existing historical names of the districts and buildings. Building “house numbers” are small LED-lit signs that provide the building name in German along with the subdistrict letter and building number. Doorbell panels on each building incorporate maps, and banners on the building provide information about temporary events.

Jury Comments: 

“This project captures it all for me in one word: zeitgeist. It is the zeitgeist of the 2008 awards. ‘The spirit of the time; the spirit characteristic of an age or generation.’ This project speaks to me from the past and into the future.” “Appropriate in its totality, its essence in Essen is the flavor, feel, spirit, smell, feeling, look, tone—the general atmosphere of a place or situation and the effect that it has on people. I will include this in my top 100 places to see in the world.”

Design Firm: 

F1RST DESIGN

Client: 

Landesentwicklungsgesellsutag (LEG Research and Development Company)

Location City: 

Essen, Germany

Project Area: 

100 hectares

Open Date: 

N/A

Photo Credits: 

Christopher Ledwig

Design Team: 

Christopher Ledwig (principal in charge), Aysin Ipecki (project manager), Harald Steber, Anna Weber, Bettina Feldhausen, Andreas Marks, Till Armbrüster, Kathrin Spohr

Consultants: 

N/A

Fabricators: 

Vangenhassend GmbH (general contractor), Hüwels Betonelementewerk GmbH (concrete products)

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