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0145 St. Agnes

Berlin, 2012-2015, Brandlhuber+ Emde, Burlon / Riegler Riewe; Peter Behrbohm, Klara Bindl, Tobias Hönig, Cornelia Müller, Markus Rampl, Paul Reinhardt; Robert Hartfiel, Andreas Schulz / Pichler Ingenieure (Tragwerk)

The conversion of the former St. Agnes church and community centre into an arts and culture complex required a particularly sensitive approach due to the buildings’ history and heritage listing.The church, originally built by German Architect Werner Düttmann, had not been used for its original purpose since 2004. The shrinking community forced the owners to close down the church, and its high maintenance cost led to discussions about its possible demolition, a scenario the church itself described as the 'ultima ratio'. The empty church was therefore rented out to a ecclesiastical institution for temporary use. In 2008, the ensemble was listed as an architectural monument. Discussion about its possible future use arose when it became vacant again in 2011. The church only allowed restricted programs, reducing the number of interested parties that could convince the owners of both a good utilization concept and a recovery plan. The owners thus decided to lease the building to German gallerist Johan König for a period of 99 years. This particular legal and historical situation made a particularly sensitive approach necessary. The concept was therefore to insert a concrete slab, a concrete table, with a surrounding gap into the main church-room.Supported by multiple narrow concrete columns, this minimally invasive addition changes the typology of the building and facilitates the use of the’ table’ as a gallery, subdividing the space into two levels. The inserted concrete slab also contains all the mechanical equipment, serving both the upper and lower floors. On the upper level, the main exhibition space —28 m long, 12 m wide and 10 m high— allows all different kinds of art to be displayed. The former organ gallery becomes the entrance to the 350 m2 exhibition area, with three steps needed to bridge the old parapet. The architecture fades out; plaster and concrete textures blur in the diffused light that enters the room through the old skylights. The gap between the concrete slab and the existing structure varies in width —12 cm in 1965, 4 cm in 2015— visible evidence of the increasingly stringent safety regulations. Light enters through the gap to the ground level, characterized by 20 concrete columns and used as storage and work space.The inserted concrete ‘table’ not only respects the stringent preservation laws but also transforms the building into a "socially beneficial function", as called for by the Venice Charter. Furthermore, the slab’s detached configuration allows it to be easily removed, returning the church to its original preserved state. The social character of the community centre as a public space is retained through the presence of various programs on the site: at present, a non-profit exhibition space, an educational institution, a small publishing house, an arts journal and a café. (The construction and accomplishment was executed by Riegler Riewe.) More information: www.koeniggalerie.com