With a light and precise touch, 1100 Architect breathes new life into a landmarked gymnasium in Darmstadt

Recreation Restoration

With a light and precise touch, 1100 Architect breathes new life into a landmarked gymnasium in Darmstadt

The architects brought the gym up to code while preserving its historic architectural character. (Jean-Luc Valentin)

The Böllenfalltorhalle is a gymnasium and recreation center in Darmstadt, Germany. It sits at the southwestern edge of town, across from the stadium where SV Darmstadt 98, the local soccer club, plays. Built in 1964, the concrete and wood structure is defined by its impressive long-span arched roof, hemmed by channel-glass clerestories, arcing cleanly above a broad playing surface and seating for about 2,100 people. Throughout its history it has been used by local schools, teams, and community groups for sporting events and fairs—even concerts. SV Darmstadt 98 has also used it as a VIP catering area during game days (there wasn’t one in the stadium) where fans can mingle and chat about the last goal.

Designed by local architect Ernst Samesreuther, the Böllenfalltorhalle began construction in 1964, and the first game was held there in early 1966. After many years of service, the building, which is landmarked, was very much worse for wear. The old lighting and grimy clerestory glass left the interior dark and murky. The ventilation, never entirely sufficient, was incapable of moving fresh air to the center of the voluminous space. The acoustics left a lot to be desired. The electrical system was so old it could no longer pass inspection, and the fire protection and smoke detection systems could not meet current standards.

Acoustic baffling was added behind the wood for improved noise control. (Jean-Luc Valentin)

Meanwhile, SV Darmstadt 98, a club with a varied record, went on a fairy-tale run of wins that launched it briefly into the Bundesliga, Germany’s top tier of professional soccer teams. The spate of victories galvanized enough support behind the team for the City of Darmstadt to fund a major renovation and expansion of the stadium, upgrading facilities and adding a new grandstand, among other improvements. It hired 1100 Architect, a New York–based company with an office in Frankfurt, Germany, to complete the job. While the City was at it, it also hired the firm to renovate the Böllenfalltorhalle and bring the whole sports and entertainment complex into the 21st century.

Ventilation ducting was integrated in the soffit, and new channel glass was set in the clerestories. (Jean-Luc Valentin)

As the building is a listed landmark, 1100 had the challenge of upgrading systems while maintaining as much of the 1964 appearance as possible. Fortunately, it was working with a diamond in the rough. “It’s a very clever structure, nice materials, pretty minimal, with a lot of atmosphere,” Gunter Weyrich, 1100’s lead architect on the project, told AN. “We are able to do a lot of great stuff with new building, but we are always respecting if something old is beautiful—we are happy to polish it.”

The design team studied historic documentation and original drawings of the building to understand what they were working with. As construction began, existing building materials were catalogued, refurbished, and reused. One of the most challenging features of the existing building was its astonishing wood ceiling. The building code said that wood could not be used in that application, owing to combustibility concerns. However, there it was. Working with a fire protection specialist, 1100 produced a digital model showing that in the event of a fire, 2,200 people would have plenty of time to evacuate before there was any structural damage. Thus, the wood was allowed to remain. First, however, each board was removed, numbered, and stored while the team replaced every light in the ceiling with new LED luminaires that match the profiles of the original fixtures. New acoustic baffling was also added behind the wood before it was put back in place.

(Jean-Luc Valentin)

The channel-glass clerestories had to be replaced, as they were too damaged for refurbishment. However, the same look was achieved, and in addition, smoke evacuation openings were integrated into the glass for improved fire protection. The team also updated each of the building’s support spaces, including locker rooms, bathrooms, and offices. Along with the new lighting, the rest of the building’s mechanical systems were upgraded with new energy-efficient systems that meet Germany’s stringent requirements. As a result of these life-safety and performance-based upgrades, the building can now be used as an official emergency shelter, adding to the roles it can play for the community.

The existing seating was cleaned and preserved, and old fixtures were replaced by LED lighting. (Jean-Luc Valentin)

With construction on the nearby stadium recently finished—1100 refurbished an old grandstand, added a new one, and also designed new training-facility and administrative-office buildings—this improved sports campus shows how a mix of careful renovation and ground-up additions can revitalize an important community hub for the future while keeping residents connected to their history.