Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

 

On many issues Neu-Ulm is over­shadowed and out-muscled by her elder, bigger sister, Ulm. The two cities are physically separated by the river Danube and politically by the state boundary; Neu-Ulm is in Bavaria, Ulm in Baden-Wurttemberg. Ulm is a historic town, severely bombed during World War II. Neu-Ulm was largely constructed after the war and retains the character of a suburb, rather than a town in its own right. This is however a unique (now ‘historic’) urban style and has a rough, strangely appealing charm. The Neu-Ulm train station was demolished and put underground, which opened the opportunity for a signature urban renewal project, the redesign of the Heiner-Metzger Plaza in front of the former train station. This is part of a larger scale inner city renovation and expansion project, connecting Neu-Ulm to the Danube waterfront and given additional impulse by the State Garden Expo planned for 2008.

Neu-Ulm’s dynamic mayor did not hesitate to get town citizens in on the action. In particular, high school students were included in a design workshop, coordinated by Atelier Dreiseitl but planned by the students themselves, after which they went on to further develop the project with their teachers and the city planning department. Instead of abstract, political intellectualism, young adults respond to facts, and express themselves with emotion and feeling, when they are given the chance to get involved. The themes ‘a meeting point for generations’ and ‘fun space’ started to crystallize. Climbing, chess, games, corners and other ideas started to flow for a place with a contemporary concept of ‘leisure’ – active, moving, dynamic, and in every case including water.

The students were then invited for a workshop at Atelier Dreiseitl. Water phenomenon experiments were used as an ice-breaker for minds and voices.

 

Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

The participation of school children from design to construction is the key to the success of this project.

 

The plaza design springs from the idea of creating different use zones as islands. There are islands for rest and for activities under the trees. The hard, urban plaza edge is turned to the street where the fountain is both a highlight and a screen against passing traffic.

 

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Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

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Models were built, sketches were drafted and redrafted, and discussions were held with unforgettable intensity.

Atelier Dreiseitl took all this input and synthesized it into a final design based on use zones. An internal corner has a compacted gravel floor and is sheltered by trees. This is an active play area with a funky climbing wall, resilient table football and outdoor chess. An edging wall provides abundant seating. The external corner, bounded by the two roads, is an ensemble of water screens. These are a highly visible identity marker, subtly and transparently shielding the plaza from traffic with suggestive views cut through. They define an inner space, which is active and fun with changing water patterns and intensities. The gurgling noise of the water creates a ‘soundscape’. Through another physical sense, the inclusiveness and fun atmosphere of the plaza is reinforced. Seating blocks were designed by students and sited together in the 5 centimetre shallow water screed.

Stormwater run-off from the plaza is collected, filtered and then infiltrated in constructed layers of gravel under the paving. Instead of using environmental­ly and financially expensive potable water, ground water is used to supple­ment the circulation systems of the water features. A cycle of responsibility is established between the site and ground water.

Local industries were drawn into the tide of enthusiasm and donated construction materials. The good press reviews felt like a reward for everyone especially after all the hard work that went into the project. Inclusion and acceptance by the local youth is the ultimate safeguard against vandalism. So far the new Heiner-Metzger Plaza is proving the worth of a community inclusive planning process.

 

Collection, filtration and infiltration of stormwater

Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

 

Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

Activities for all generations

 

The water feature is a space sculpture which maintains transparency through the fine stainless steel meshes. Set with changing water flows, the screens alternate between being transparent and forming a soft visual barrier. They are also a sound set, pushing back the noise of the city.

 

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Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm

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Heiner-Metzger Plaza, Neu-Ulm