The exterior incorporates an aluminum rainscreen from Kalzip and a curtainwall from Schco. Ecker describes the existing 11-building, 1960s complex as well-built, but quiet, in an aesthetic worth respecting. We found that we could reinterpret that on the outside, Ecker says. Visible through the high-efficiency glass from Glas Tr¶sch is the main assembly hall and its three rotationally cast concrete columns that support the mass of the concrete ceiling.

The exterior incorporates an aluminum rainscreen from Kalzip and a curtainwall from Schüco. Ecker describes the existing 11-building, 1960s complex as “well-built, but quiet,” in an aesthetic worth respecting. “We found that we could reinterpret that on the outside,” Ecker says. Visible through the high-efficiency glass from Glas Trösch is the main assembly hall and its three rotationally cast concrete columns that support the mass of the concrete ceiling.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez

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.

 

As seen from the floor of the assembly hall, multipurpose study rooms are tucked into the void beneath the walkway.

As seen from the floor of the assembly hall, multipurpose study rooms are tucked into the void beneath the walkway.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez

 

The entire 25-meter-square concrete ceiling was poured in place in a single session on a very cold day in the middle of winter, Ecker says. The architects originally considered other materialswood and metal among thembut eventually Ecker suggested concrete. Thats kind of the way our office works, Piotrowski says. Im constantly involved in the really fine details of what were doing, and Dea comes and shakes things up and will think about things a little differently. The walls of the structure are also formed from concreteits high flyash content gives it the white colorand the floors are terrazzo, so even though the tones are very light, they can take the wear and tear of hundreds of high schoolers. We find that if you use true materials, and you leave them exposed, theres not really much that can happen to them that you cannot remove, Ecker says. The benches in the main assembly hall are also made from concrete, and were cast with formwork from Max Frank.

The entire 25-meter-square concrete ceiling was poured in place in a single session on “a very cold day” in the middle of winter, Ecker says. The architects originally considered other materials—wood and metal among them—but eventually Ecker suggested concrete. “That’s kind of the way our office works,” Piotrowski says. “I’m constantly involved in the really fine details of what we’re doing, and Dea comes and shakes things up and will think about things a little differently.” The walls of the structure are also formed from concrete?its high flyash content gives it the white color?and the floors are terrazzo, so even though the tones are very light, they can take the wear and tear of hundreds of high schoolers. “We find that if you use true materials, and you leave them exposed, there’s not really much that can happen to them that you cannot remove,” Ecker says. The benches in the main assembly hall are also made from concrete, and were cast with formwork from Max Frank.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


View of the main assembly hall interior.

View of the main assembly hall interior.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


Entry hall.

Entry hall.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez

 The interior of the addition connects various levels of the surrounding buildings. A walkway overlooks the assembly hall on one side, and the student café, with its yellow twin chairs from Brunner, and library, on the other. Circular floor lights mimic the coffers and skylights in the concrete ceiling.

The interior of the addition connects various levels of the surrounding buildings. A walkway overlooks the assembly hall on one side, and the student café, with its yellow twin chairs from Brunner, and library, on the other. Circular floor lights mimic the coffers and skylights in the concrete ceiling.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


Throughout the concrete-and-glass interiorin the assembly hall, the library (shown), and the multipurpose roomsthe architects used Soundwave Swell modular acoustic panels from Offecct to dampen sound. Designed by Teppo Asikainen of Helsinki-based Valvomo Architects, the panels are formed from molded recyclable polyester fiber and covered in Europost fabric from Gabriel. The library stacks, manufactured by Bruynzeel, are starkly white in keeping with the buildings overall aesthetic.

Throughout the concrete-and-glass interior—in the assembly hall, the library (shown), and the multipurpose rooms—the architects used Soundwave Swell modular acoustic panels from Offecct to dampen sound. Designed by Teppo Asikainen of Helsinki-based Valvomo Architects, the panels are formed from molded recyclable polyester fiber and covered in Europost fabric from Gabriel. The library stacks, manufactured by Bruynzeel, are starkly white in keeping with the building’s overall aesthetic.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


Library reading tables overlook the multipurpose rooms on the ground floor and the bridge leading to the café on the second floor. The glazing is from Balardo. Here, and in other study spaces, ceiling panels from Heraklith further dampen sound.

Library reading tables overlook the multipurpose rooms on the ground floor and the bridge leading to the café on the second floor. The glazing is from Balardo. Here, and in other study spaces, ceiling panels from Heraklith further dampen sound.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


View through the library's glass walls and into the first floor multipurpose rooms, and on the light-inscribed walkway above.

View through the library's glass walls and into the first floor multipurpose rooms, and on the light-inscribed walkway above.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


Second-level cafe.

Second-level cafe.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


In a second-floor lounge next to the student café, carpet from Forbo helps soak up even more noise. The architects knew that acoustics would be a concern in a largely open interior of glass, terrazzo, and concrete. But when you have a gathering of 300 people, clothes [absorb a lot of noise], Piotrowski says. And the clients are comfortable with the fact that the addition still requires some fine-tuning. They understand that having a brand new building, the first in 40 years, takes a little getting used to, he says, so its not a process that they are accustomed to. But it is one that is welcome: They have a little influence, Ecker says.

In a second-floor lounge next to the student café, carpet from Forbo helps soak up even more noise. The architects knew that acoustics would be a concern in a largely open interior of glass, terrazzo, and concrete. “But when you have a gathering of 300 people, clothes [absorb a lot of noise],” Piotrowski says. And the clients are comfortable with the fact that the addition still requires some fine-tuning. “They understand that having a brand new building, the first in 40 years, takes a little getting used to,” he says, so it’s not a process that they are accustomed to. But it is one that is welcome: “They have a little influence,” Ecker says.

Credit: Brigida Gonzalez


 

Drawings


 


Project Credits
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)
Cost   Withheld

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
Windows  Flieger