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Wolfsburg – a melting pot of modern architecture

Sitzkugeln bei Dunkelheit im Allerpark (Copyright: Heinrich Jens)

Those arriving in Wolfsburg by train can immediately see that the city is home to a rich array of exciting and visionary architecture. And this is a great reason to not simply ride on, but to get out and discover the city!

VW building
Particular attention is paid to the choice of material, shape and colour in order to adequately represent Volkswagen’s values: style, quality and professionalism. (Photo: Allianz für die Region GmbH / Martina Hohmann)

Wolfsburg – a melting pot of modern architecture

Visitors arriving at Wolfsburg’s central railway station are transported directly into the heart of Autostadt with its extraordinary landscape architecture. Situated directly on the Mittelland Canal, the 28-hectare site stretches across a varied Japanese-style park and lagoon landscape. Strictly speaking, Autostadt is an amusement park that reveals new surprises behind every hill. Architecture firm Henn completed the 430-million-euro communication platform in 2000 in time for the start of the Expo in Hanover. The architects paid particular attention to the choice of material, shape and colour – in order to adequately represent Volkswagen’s values of style, quality and professionalism. For this reason, glass, steel, aluminium, natural stone and concrete were predominantly used, white and grey tones given preference, and tensions in the design of lines and surfaces avoided. The two 48-metre-high Car Towers, which also house the world’s largest automobile distribution centre, soar towards the sky above Wolfsburg and serve as Autostadt’s landmark. Here, 800 vehicles stand ready for delivery to customers and cause the hearts of their future owners to beat faster in anticipation.

VW habour and powerplant
Autostadt’s landmark, the two 48-metre-high Car Towers, soar towards the sky above Wolfsburg (Photo: Allianz für die Region GmbH / Olaf Wenkebach)

The phaeno Science Centre – knowledge transfer in a futuristic structure

For those who prefer a more fanciful than tangible experience, we’d recommend a visit to the phaeno technology museum on the other side of the Mittelland Canal. On the square directly in front of the railway station, it grows out of the ground like a futuristic concrete crystal with its sharp angles. According to British newspaper The Guardian, it is considered one of the twelve most important modern buildings in the world. It was designed by Iranian-British architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away in 2016. She was one of the most talented and innovative architects of our time. Hadid made no compromises in discarding conventional views and designs, which is why the phaeno is shaped by walls that meet in acute rather than right angles, as well as by inclined planes.

phaeno at night
Illuminated by night, the phaeno Science Centre gets a futuristic look (Photo: Allianz für die Region GmbH / Jennifer Denecke)

The building is particularly fascinating thanks to its dynamic lightness. Despite its 27,000 cubic metres of concrete, it almost seems to float. This could be because it is supported by ten conical concrete pillars whose hollow interiors are used, for example, for a science theatre or a small restaurant. The interior of the building also opens up ever-new perspectives for the visitor. In this way, according to Hadid, architecture can promote mental openness and agility.

phaeno Science Centre
The phaeno Science Centre, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid (Photo: Klemens Ortmeyer)

Where stagecraft meets Expressionism – the Wolfsburg Theatre

The phaeno Science Centre is not the only world-class structure in Wolfsburg. Inaugurated in 1973, the Wolfsburg Theatre is today the city’s youngest architectural monument. Its creator, Berlin architect Hans Scharoun (1893–1972), was one of the most imaginative Expressionist architects. In contrast to the widespread rationalism of the 1920s, he pursued the idea of ​​organic construction in his designs. The buildings were to blend harmoniously into their surroundings. The architect of the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall also impressed the people of Wolfsburg with this principle and implemented his design in 1965, beating out famous colleagues such as Alvar Aalto and Jørn Utzon. He wanted his building to extend parallel to Klieversberg Hill and offer a view towards the city and the Volkswagen factory to the front. The architect even incorporated the existing forest into the background as a design feature. Today, observers will still notice the functions of individual parts of the building. The block-like, windowless stage house, for example, contains the theatre’s performance area. Inside, the auditorium is located at the centre, allowing for a good view from every seat. As a result, everything is ordered in terms of its function, but there are no right angles. Perhaps this is why the theatre is so popular with the public – used at around 90 percent of its capacity, it is one of the most successful venues in Germany.

The block-like, windowless stage house contains the theatre’s performance area (Photo: Allianz für die Region GmbH / Klaus Römer)

The Alvar-Aalto-Kulturhaus – a marvel of organic architecture

A small architectural miracle awaits anyone who crosses the pedestrian zone to its end as they come from the station: Alvar-Aalto-Kulturhaus, a cultural centre designed by the legendary Finnish architect, city planner and furniture designer for Wolfsburg in 1958, was inaugurated in 1962. While the building’s original urban and landscape context is no longer preserved, the home of the Wolfsburg City Library, the municipal cultural office, various creative workshops and several lecture halls of the former adult education centre nevertheless represents a true synthesis of the arts. Aalto designed not only the characteristic lines and cubes of the building, but also the smallest details such as lamps and door handles. The mix of materials is equally unusual. The facade is made of marble above the ground floor, the roof is covered with copper, the entrance foyer is covered with blue ceramic tiles – and the doors of the lecture halls are covered with horsehair. Compared to the interior design details, the Alvar Aalto Cultural Centre looks rather simple from the outside. Only after dark does the building reveal its exterior charms as well – this is when the sophisticated ceiling lights of the foyer shimmer, creating a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

‘A building is like an instrument. It has to absorb all positive influences and ward off any negative influences that could affect people.’

(Alvar Aalto)

Religious architecture of world renown – the Heilig-Geist-Kirche

Alvar Aalto is also responsible for the radical, modern architecture of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Holy Spirit Church), which is located in the district of Eichelkamp southwest of the city centre. Inaugurated in 1962, the listed ensemble including the church, community centre and nursery school is the district’s most striking feature with its 32-metre-high bell tower. Four clearly visible bells with a total weight of more than 1,500 kilograms hang one above the other over four floors and can be heard from near and far on church feast days. Inside the church you’ll find an expansive space that is characterised by light and openness. The layout of the church is a trapezium, which tapers to the east. As a result, there are no right angles on the ground floor level. The most impressive element of this sacred structure is undoubtedly the ceiling structure: a wave divided into five wooden panels that extends from the altar across the entire space. Even though this design is primarily due to acoustics, it also carries a deep religious symbolism in itself: a hand extending from the east to protect the worshippers.

By the way, if you’ve worked up an appetite while visiting the city’s many architectural highlights: how about popping in to nice restaurant? This will give you the chance to rest and eat something, so you will be ready for your next round of sightseeing – in Wolfsburg or the region.

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