New Architecture in Germany

Stuttgart's new Trade Fair Centre sets new architectural benchmarks in elegance and perfection

Ecke Messepiazza; Copyright: Landesmesse Stuttgart GmbH Messepiazza corner; Copyright: Landesmesse Stuttgart GmbHA somewhat controversial building project turns out to be an architectural stroke of luck.

South of Stuttgart, the capital of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, there is a fertile plane known as the Filderebene, famous for growing those bizarre looking pointed cabbages. Over the past few decades the city of Stuttgart, the Swabian metropolis wedged within the narrow confines of the Neckar river valley, has often tried to expand into this rural idyll. This has always prompted environmental activists, conservationists, farmers and residents to try to do something about it – alas, in vain.

They were not able to put a stop to the widening of the autobahn nor the continual enlargement of the airport at Echterdingen, not to mention the proliferation of new housing estates built by Stuttgart commuters obsessed with the my-home-is-my-castle mentality. And then came the new Trade Fair Centre and no matter how much they demonstrated against it and lodged legal action, there was nothing they could do.

In October 2007 the new Trade Fair Centre with its 108,000 sq. m. of exhibition space was opened. Now it stands in all its glory, this phalanx of flowing, curved roofs that seems quite literally to be taking off, leaving other equally as ambitious trade fair projects like Leipzig, Munich or Hamburg in its wake with regard to practicality, sustainability, profitability - and beauty. A lucky break, so to speak, that at the moment has got the happiness hormones going of everyone involved.

Interaction with the surroundings

Aerial view; Copyright: Projektgesellschaft Neue Messe GmbH u. Co. KGThe success story got off the ground with the choice of location – its direct transport links are unique: within walking distance of the airport (only Geneva can boast the same), suburban train link and soon to have its own ICE/InterCity railway station, no endlessly sprawling car parks, but its own compact multi-storey car park with a direct link to the autobahn right on its doorstep.

The 20-metre difference in height on the site presented quite a challenge for the architects of Wulf & Partners - Tobias Wulf, Kai Bierich and Alexander Vohl - which they mastered admirably, giving the fair that special scenic touch that all the other fairgrounds lack. They laid two tracks into the landscape, two rows of exhibition halls, seamlessly extended by the two huge fingers of the car park that stretch into the distance towards some distant point on the eastern horizon. The rows of halls have not been built parallel to each other as most architects would have designed them and as has been the case with hundreds of other trade fair centres; they splay out like a fan, opening up to the landscape, or better still, they absorb their natural surroundings into the inner workings of the fair. The fairground's park, its central green axis, with its waterfalls, seating areas and steps is the perfect place to relax and, if the weather is right, might even tempt many a fairgoer to give the fair a miss (landscaping by Adler & Olesch).

There is no pathos as in Berlin or Frankfurt, no dry, wishful rationalism as in Munich. Despite the enormous volumes and spans the architecture manages to remain elegant, enabling it to demurely and serenely to fulfil its serving function with the greatest ease and transparency.

Roof construction; Copyright: Projektgesellschaft Neue Messe GmbH u. Co. KGCar park over the A8 autobahn; Copyright: Projektgesellschaft Neue Messe GmbH u. Co. KGStandardhalle; Copyright: wulf u. partner
TV SymbolSlide Show: Stuttgart's new Trade Fair Centre

A paragon of perfection when it comes to detail and construction

The forecourt, the Messepiazza, is the operational heart of the fair. It has a slightly convex curvature, "like a section of the Earth", say the architects, "that broadens the view." On the left there is the International Congress Centre with its bold, panoramic glass facade, next to it the main entrance with its reception area, then the car park that quite sensibly can also be used by airport passengers and then, on the right, the fair's administrative building. There is no confusion, no orientation problems, no detours. Signs are actually not really necessary – the architecture speaks for itself.

The seven exhibition halls are reminiscent of a huge camp for the roofs seem to be draped like canvass or sheets over tent poles – and seem equally as thin. These suspended structures require hardly any construction height, no girders and no joists and beams – only thin carriage straps and a delicate roofing membrane that is completely invisible to the layman. One thing you cannot miss are the impressive steel supports that lift the edge beams into the air. A new kind of tiered ventilation system (displacement ventilation) that no longer has to circulate air throughout the whole of the hall saves a third in heating costs and not only gives the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre a sound ecological image, but also gives them an enormous competitive edge with a view to operating costs. All the materials and colours of the construction elements reveal how much care and economic thinking went into their selection and just how high their standards are to ensure perfection when it comes to planning both detail and construction.

If it is not a trade fair you are after, but maybe a Herbert Grönemeyer concert, a world championship boxing match with Vladimir Klitschko or the famous German Saturday night show – "Wetten dass?", then you had better head for Hall 1, or the "High Hall" as insiders call it. Its roof is not only tall enough to house lofty exhibits of up to 14 metres in height, but also serves as a venue for events attracting up to 17,000 visitors.

View from Plieningen of the car park over the A8 autobahn; Copyright: wulf u. partner

No fear of mistaking it for somewhere else

The huge multi-storey car park has room for 4000 cars. The welded girders, stanchions and supports of this powerful trussed construction are of a type and size normally only used for building international ports and railway bridges. There is a beautiful view from the roof garden over the fields and meadows of the Filder plain to the TV tower and over the countryside to the hills of the Schwäbische Alb. And it is only when you dare to look down over the railing that you realise you are above the busy, six-lane A8 autobahn and the future ICE railway line to Munich.

It is also worth casting your gaze in a westerly direction back onto the curved, flowing roofs of the fair that look like a plane squadron waiting on the apron to take off any moment like the silver birds at the airport next-door. Nobody will ever forget this sight, nobody will ever mistake Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre for another exhibition venue - a unique feature like this is worth its weight in gold and it is the architects and engineers we have to thank for this.

Falk Jaeger
is a construction historian and architecture critic.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2007

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