The Wehrhahn Line is a cooperation between architects, engineers, artists, and the city’s administration and represents the culmination of a total of 15 years planning and construction work in Düsseldorf. The 3,4 kilometer-long new section of tunnel with six stations runs under downtown Düsseldorf and shows in its unique concept how architecture and art can be inextricably linked.
It all started in 2001 with a two-stage EU-wide competition for an overall concept which was won by netzwerarchitekten in collaboration with artist Heike Klussmann.
The continuum concept was proclaimed as an outstanding piece of work in the jury’s competition report:
“Since the invention of the subway, there have been no new architectural and artistic developments in this field, apart from fit-outs in keeping with the Zeitgeist. Without a doubt netzwerkarchitekten has in collaboration with artist Heike Klussmann and Uwe Belzner come up with a new solution to the problem of new subway station design. […] This project is a thoroughly outstanding piece of work, which goes well beyond issues of fitout and design, and sidesteps any notion of zeitgeist, so it will remain compelling for many years to come.” The jury unanimously commended: “…a design principle that fosters a distinctive identity, combined with a particularly persuasive interpretation of technical specifications in terms of a spatial, architectural and artistic language throughout the entire Wehrhahn Line. […]“
Right from the outset of the competition the foundation has thus been laid to ensure that rather than a heterogeneous collection of stations, each designed seperately, the Wehrhahn Line would be able to incorporate unifying concept innate in the winning proposal.
The subsequent art competition brought together five more artists in addition to Heike Klussmann (Pempelforterstraße, Continuum), who from then on would each advance his or her ideas for particular interstices in collaboration with the architects. The jury selected Enne Haehnle (Kirchplatz), Manuel Franke (Grad Adolf Platz), Thomas Stricker (Benrather Strasse), Ralf Brög (Heinrich Heine Allee) and Ursula Damm (Schadowstrasse).
In accordance with the basic architectural concept, the six station spaces of the Wehrhahn Line are designed as a single continuum. Unlike the individually designed characteristics of the incisions in each station, which connect the underground stations to the aboveground urban space, the design of the actual station spaces refers to the precast concrete “segments” that constitute the tunnel space proper and interprets these in terms of generously contoured, calm and bright expansions. The memorable and thus unmistakable visual properties of the precast concrete wall reliefs runs through all the stations and thus significantly fosters perception of the conceptual idea of the spatial continuum.
By contrast, the interstices connect the respective subway stations with the urban fabric at street level. It is these zones that accommodate the access routes, stairs, escalators, elevators and concourses. As early as the competition stage, the aim was to open up sightlines to create a direct visual connection between each station and the city, and, whenever possible, to bring daylight right down to track level. These long views not only facilitate passenger orientation but also engender a greater sense of security. The connecting interstices vary greatly in geometry, depending, on one hand, on the architectural disposition of the urban space at street level, and on the other, on the layout of the station below ground. For this reason, these interstices were identified as the venue of station-specific artistic interventions.
The choice of precast concrete cladding system for the station walls, for instance, derives from translating the reinforced concrete prefabricated sectional elements used in tunnel construction into another medium. The cladding’s geometric structure – based on a stretched and compressed diamond – is reminiscent of snakeskin, and thus by association, it echoes the long, winding tunnel. At the same time, the cladding’s segmentation, which blends with the respective graphics to form a unity, means that individual elements can be replaced or repaired – a core requirement in subway construction. Further thought went into how the individual panels should be joined, and how they might intersect with adjacent areas, as well as the economic feasibility of producing such a raft of different formats. Here art is not simply an applied layer, but an integral part of the building. Likewise, throughout the planning and implementation of the project, there was constant, intense collaboration between the engineers, architects and artists.