Normally, a portfolio of repeat work for a client is a big advantage going into a design competition. But in the case of Buchen, Germany–based Ecker Architekten and the new student center at Eckenberg Academy, it almost kept them from getting a seat at the table. “It’s not easy to start an office again after transferring it to another continent,” says partner Dea Ecker of the move her firm made from Chicago to Germany in 2000. “We did relatively bread-and-butter work,” she says, including fire-code renovations for Eckenberg’s 12-building campus in Adelsheim, Germany.
The school’s drab cementitious-panel-clad boxes have not been added to since being built in the mid-1960s. So when the news went out about a commission to design a new auditorium and student center, Ecker wanted in. “It’s actually tricky to convince a client that you are the person to design their once-in-a-generation new building if you’ve been doing their fire doors,” says partner Robert Piotrowski. “You have to reintroduce yourself.”
Luckily, there was a portfolio of camera-ready work at hand: The firm started in Chicago in 1998 after Ecker and Piotrowski had worked at (and lost jobs at) large firms and decided they needed a change. “We laugh about it because you notice that you’re working so independently that no one can take you in a regular office anymore,” Ecker says. Early work included the corporate headquarters for Chicago furniture manufacturer Holly Hunt, which the duo completed before deciding to relocate their practice to Ecker’s native Germany. Ecker, who came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship, actually was required to move back as a cultural ambassador. “She brought an American back with her,” Piotrowski says—the two had been married in Chicago.
Ecker and Piotrowski maintain a multicultural office that focuses on education work, including several recent projects in Germany which caught the eye of the state government running the Eckenberg project. But ultimately, as with any commission, winning came down to finding a rapport with the client. The architects built a particularly strong relationship with the school’s director, who was the driving force behind the project. “He noticed that there was no place where the students could gather,” Piotrowski says. In this client champion, they found an ally who allowed them the freedom to create a 10,704-square-foot structure that serves as a new hub for the campus.
In fitting with its midcentury-modern context, the new building is quiet on the outside—a deceptively simple glass box—but its interior introduces a new generation of design for the school. The main space is a double-height assembly hall that can accommodate up to 300, and the facility also incorporates a library, multipurpose study rooms, a café, and a student lounge, all housed under a not-so-quiet, 25-meter-square, poured-in-place concrete roof, inset with circular coffers and acrylic domed skylights. “We left all the fireworks for the inside of the building,” Piotrowski says. And, of course, all of the fire codes are up to date.
Project Forum at the Eckenberg Gymnasium, Adelsheim, Germany
Client Baden-Württemberg Department of Property and Construction, Heilbronn Office
Architect Ecker Architekten, Buchen, Germany—Dea Ecker, Robert Piotrowski (partners); Joachim Schuhmacher, John Ruffolo, Peter Borek, Tom Jin, Sophie Hartmann, Mariana Martins, Shaique Uddin, Joshua Chan, Aref Nezami, Karolina Bieniek, Ankur Manchanda, Michael Fung, Stephanie Polochowitz (project team)
Structural Engineer Rehle Engineers
M/E Engineer CARPUS+Partner
Structural Analysis and Inspection Kist EngineeringLighting Design Belzner Holmes
Acoustic Engineering and Building Physics Krämer-Evers
Size 1,000 square meters (10,764 square feet)
Material and Sources
Acoustics Heraklith (ceiling panels) heraklith.com; Offecct (modular wall panels) offecct.se
Acrylic Skylights JET, Börner boerner.de
Aluminum Rainscreen Kalzip kalzip.com
Aluminum Register Grilles ADO
Carpet Forbo (Coral Plus) forbo-flooring.com; Tretford tretford.com
ConcreteFormwork Max Frank maxfrank.com
Curtainwall Schüco schueco.com
Exterior Sun Shading Clauss Markisen (s_enn) clauss-markisen.de
Fabric Gabriel (Europost 2) gabriel.dk
Finishes Formica (Decometal) www.formica.com
Flooring Terrazo; Nora (Noraplan) nora.com
Free-Standing Kiosk Knauf (Cubo-system)
Furniture Brunner (Twin chair) brunner-group.com; Bruynzeel (Library shelves and counter) bruynzeel-storage.nl
Glass Glas Trösch (high-efficiency insulated glass) www.glastroesch.ch; Balardo (Glassline, interior glass walls and railings) balardo.de
Hardware FSB fsb.de
Lighting Ludwig Leuchten (116, under bridge) ludwig-leuchten.de; Planlicht (library) planlicht.com; RSL Lichttechnik (custom) rsl.de; Selux (i-wall wallwashers) selux.com
LightingControls GIRA (E22) gira.com
Roofing Alwitra (membrane) alwitra.de; Loro (integral roof drain) loro.de
Structure Europoles (Rotationally-Cast Concrete Columns and Capitals) europoles.com