__Cast wholly in concrete, the sensuous, snaking form of the new power station replaces an ageing building from the 1950s, and sits adjacent to a couple of heritage-listed 19th century mills, now converted into apartments. The plant, which produces enough power to provide electricity to 3,000 homes, was initially planned by specialist energy engineers, RMD Consult. becker architekten were then briefed to give the building its form.
__The resultant design is dynamic; linking the two ends of the structure within a single envelope, essentially a reinforced concrete shell measuring 100 metres long by 23 metres wide "floating" in the middle of the river, harnessing water at one end, passing it through turbines and disgorging it back into the river at the other end. "That was our contribution," one of its principal architects, Michael Becker, says. "Our role was to combine an ensemble of individual structural elements and turn them into a building and give it shape, like an organism that could exist opposite the industrial buildings as a large sculpture, formed in stone and making references the dynamics of the water and its power to erode – a building that rises up out of the water and which metaphorically continues the water landscape."
__The interior of the shell was shuttered with rough-sawn boards and stabilised with concrete ribs placed at four-metre intervals, lending it a skeletal feeling. The finish is deliberately rough, abrasive, shadowy and grey; board markings and joints are exposed; and the smooth tension-filled skin of the exterior shell is seen reverse, with a varied sequence of open and cramped, high and low spaces. The ceiling pulsates between dome-like proportions and intimate scale. With the rhythm of the reinforcing concrete ribs, the impression is decidedly one of entering inside the hull of a giant wooden ship.
__Aside from its aesthetic delights, conserving the river's ecology became an important consideration during the power station's design. With the potential that such a large structure in the river could impede natural fish migration patterns, a 46-metre "fish ladder" was installed below the water line to help reduce any barrier effect, allowing them to move upstream assisted by a series of low concrete steps. In another gesture at preserving the river's history, a steel cable bridge, one of five such bridges spanning the river around this point, was able to be retained simply by "sliding" the concrete shell beneath it.
Location: Keselstraße 14 a, D – 87435 Kempten / Allgaeu, Bavaria, Germany
Architecture: becker architekten, Kempten
Project team: Michael Becker, Bernhard Kast, Franz G. Schroeck
Structural engineer (underground): RMD Consult, Munich
Structural engineer (building): Konstruktionsgruppe Bauen, Kempten
Mechanical engineering: VA_Tech Escher Wyss GmbH, Ravensburg
Photographer: Brigida Gonzalez