Zeichnung: Markus Stenger, aus dem Vortrag REPRODUCING THE OBSOLETE vom 27.10.2016 in Weimar

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Reproducing the Obsolete:
Reflections on the Conversion of a Power Station in Munich.


Remarks on Dust and data

The balancing act between dust and data perfectly illustrates the daily life of an architect working on construction sites. It describes my everyday life.

Dust is a characteristic of every construction site. Dust – in its various manifestations – accompanies us from start to finish: as dirt, rubble, as grinding dust left over from the removal of imperfections.
Even late in the evening, when we return home, the dust still sticks to our clothes.

After all, dust is not primarily a metaphor for things filed away, for “age” and “outdatedness”.

For me, it rather accompanies new things being created - as well as the dismantling of old things - before the new and afterwards.

Construction itself is inconceivable without dust.

Hence dust, is evidence of empiricism. Of getting-things-done.

Of the “other”, partially uncontrollable, dirty, often unmentioned and ignored stage PRIOR to the archivable. Prior to architecture.




Data, on the other hand, represents pure information. Clean computer-aided design.

Data is archived knowledge. It can be categorised, addressed, distributed across networks and divided into packages. In the form of notes. Of construction schedules. Of photographic documentation. Of ground plans.

Data is about concept.

Data accompanies the dusty, empirical process and “freezes” partial areas thereof.
Much later, dust starts to settle on the archived data.


I strongly believe that both data and dust – as concept and the empiric– need to interlace in our WORK. 

I would like to thank Prof. Weizmann for inviting me to this colloquium.


It shows that one doesn't need to be a researcher with an academic engagement to find a platform for discussing thoughts on the application of architecture.

For me, this marks a “manifestation of Bauhaus” as it was originally understood:

Academic work and practical work meet under a single roof to be jointly applied to a task.


Also, it is my personal opinion that we are required to constantly search for our current role, for answers to the question of how to do our job in the best way possible while taking into account the location, building task, the client, the public, resources and the like.


In this context, working on the revitalisation of the former thermal power station in Munich’s Obersendling district has showed me new ways which I would like to share with you today.


The architectural migration

At first, I asked myself why my topic was included in the migration section.
I have to say, that early on, I had my doubts whether my own “migration” from the Bauhaus University of Weimar to Munich in 1998 would be reason enough to be assigned to the historic big picture of “Bauhaus migration”.

But then what, you might ask yourself, does the conversion of a former thermal power station have to do with the topic I would like to talk about today: With migration?

The answer is: a lot, provided one is prepared to break out of conceptual constraints.

Once one leaves the sociological and biological definition of the word migration behind and turns one’s attention – just for a moment - to the world of IT, one will find a surprising explanation which can easily be applied to my topic:


“The term migration (in IT) is diverse. It can signify both an overall conversion and every adaptation process of individual system components that is part of the overall conversion.

e.g. Software migration

Software migration goes beyond a mere update or upgrade and rather signifies a radical change to the software infrastructure. Migration is based on migration strategies

(Translation of the German Wikipedia entry for “migration in IT”)


Of course, it makes little sense to push the boundaries of these terms simply to make a definition fit one’s purpose. However, it may be interesting to find out whether the terms

- hardware      

(aka building envelope, built structure)

- software       

(aka HVACR technology, access)

- application   

(aka utilisation, rental areas, tenants)

- data               

(aka “everything worked and processed there”)

can find their equivalents in built structure and buildings. And, whether IT users and the users of buildings have equal demands!

And especially interesting to me is to think of existing structures as SYSTEMS, rather than objects.

For the moment, I would thus like to see migration as a conversion process one can apply to existing, built structures. ….

as architectural migration.


Built structures, after all, do not necessarily refer to existing buildings.

In the sense of the process of architectural migration, a useful built structure – as we would like to see it for now – is signified by the fact that it has the POTENTIAL to become a building or, in the best case: to become architecture.

Therefore, this does, for the time being, not concern new construction, in other words greenfield construction, for which the overwhelming majority of architects are still trained. More than enough strategies and systems are available for this field and for that, we are taught “stylistic confidence” - if we have paid attention at university, that is.

When it comes to working with unclassified existing structures, “stylistic confidence” can quickly turn into “lack of flexibility”.

Contrary to us architects, information technology (IT) knows secure migration strategies. They define processes which are supposed to rule out mistakes:

Potential mistakes include: (repeated) system failure, irreversible deletion of data, incompatibility, no functionality.

For us architects, such regularly applicable architectural migration strategies largely do not exist (yet).

When we started working on the abandoned former thermal power station in Munich’s Obersendling district in 2010, we at least - had no migration strategy.


Empirical planning and building

The private investor, our future client, had bought the structure from Munich’s public utility company in an uncomplicated way.

The energy provider thus escaped the costs of necessary asbestos removal work and could clear the ruin from its books. The investor took over a large-sized and unique structure

 ... as well as the entire risk for future development and value creation.

Our office was commissioned immediately after the purchase. We encountered an old concrete block full of metal and machines which, at this time, had been mostly decommissioned for many years – but just a few people were aware of that.

Two findings surprised us as early as in this initial stage:

1. We had thought the power station was a house, but it wasn’t. It was a machine. An oversized engine with a body made from concrete. Alas, how does one approach an engine that is beyond repair? And what about the body? We are architects, we don’t know bodywork.


2. For many years, the power station had served as a landscape, had been more of a mountain than a built structure. It had been a large machine’s shell, but “invisible”, because it had been a technical NECESSITY. Despite its scale, it had been fully accepted in its purpose and function by the city and the entire context of the surrounding area.
But through the building’s sale to a private investor, it had suddenly become VISIBLE.
Its value structure had changed. It had been removed from its context.
Everybody looked at it and suddenly formed an opinion.


Thus, the situation on day 1 was the following:

- The building’s utilisation was yet undefined and it was entirely unclear which parts of the former machine actually had the potential for being used for new purposes.


- The permit situation was unclear as the strong public interest had made the authorities uneasy.


- The public wanted to be informed immediately. But we didn’t have any information yet.


- There was no time for quiet brain work according to schedule: the pressure of public interest could be felt immediately.

 Together with the client, we reacted to this unusual situation with a “transparency offensive” which included the following stations:


A professional photographer was commissioned as early as during hazardous waste disposal and removal of the machine parts inside the power station. It was not possible – or feasible – to preserve the former power station in the form of a museum. However, the images’ aesthetics and the preservation of several machine parts helped us over the time to create a chain of memories as well as overall memory value. Later, a video piece by a video-artist documented the power station’s architectural migration. Using several sources, we architects reconstructed the building’s history. All of this made it possible to draw conclusions as to functional connections and special features of the existing building. With our draft, we could react to that.


The first early concepts for the building’s future utilisation were discussed at the city administration. The authorities soon developed great interest in helping to shape the utilisation of this place. In turn, they agreed to changing the area’s zoning from a “supply area” to an area of “commercial usage”.


The visions on the structure’s utilisation were adapted in the course of this value creation process. The building was supposed to provide an experience to and be accessible for everybody. The “mountain’s” interior was to become accessible. The citizens realised that they could now take possession of the former machine. That the machine would be turned into an “open house”. The client selected creative tenants who recognised the existing building’s unique features that distinguished it from other buildings and who wanted to use these features for their own purposes. Restaurants and a public roof terrace created areas that were capable of meeting the immediate requirements of the district at this very place.


Being the representatives for the surrounding district, the District Council was informed immediately after the purchase had taken place. This ensured strong subsequent political support. The district’s representatives were thus enabled to initiate first media contacts and to become the first to inform interested citizens.



Following the decontamination and excavation of former machine rooms, local media representatives were invited to visit the site in several stages and were provided with further information. The structure’s envisioned utilisation was openly discussed and preliminary results, fragments and unsolved issues were openly addressed. First tenants were given the chance to present themselves to the public.



Critics – among them several City Councillors – who had advertised the former power station’s demolition in favour of much needed residential space had to be convinced of the structure’s preservation value in talks. Furthermore, its incorporation into the surrounding city’s value structure was, among others, achieved by linking it with various public events.

450 citizens visited the “Day of the Open Monument” alone which is truly outstanding considering the house, until this day, has not officially become a monument yet. For four years now, I have given some 20 guided tours through the house to 30-100 interested persons at a time.


All this took place without a previous plan and without preparation, but live and in real time. And under immense pressure, too. Today, a machine’s successful migration into a building if not into a piece of architecture is almost complete. The house is a landmark which has been accepted and is being used by the district’s citizens and the entire city.


Be fearless: Let’s reproduce the obsolete

Our office’s readiness and capability to commit to the existing structure, to read its information and to constantly adapt and adjust the draft to newly formulated requirements has culminated in the term of “empirical” design and building;

Correctly applied, however, this now opens up completely new possibilities of executing architectural tasks in the dense urban centres of our cities: With more responsibility and higher potential for us architects.

Architects could actively look for OBSOLETE public building structures themselves and – together with investors – develop strategies for their architectural migration.

And it could be taught at universities!

In this context, strategy means working without a pre-defined style, without a rigid concept, but rather on the basis of an unbiased process.

For that you clearly have to have construction, fire protection and building physics skills as well as the ability to connect people to and with a work that -first of all – has to be analysed.

Not just in the realm of the actual implementation, for instance by reviving the “builder’s hut or early BAUHAUS”, but as early as in the initial phase, on the meta-level of axiology, the VALUE DETERMINATION phase for these structures.

And our cities are full of invisible, obsolete or mono-functional structures waiting for us.

Road bridges, urban motorway junctions, supply works, old sporting facilities, railway tracks, tunnel entrances, old museums, empty churches, prisons or schools.

The denser the urban context, the higher the pressure these structures are exposed to.

This pressure is relieved when what was previously invisible suddenly unfolds its potential.

My experience:
This very moment when a structure unfolds its potential is when the public starts talking about architecture – in a language that can be understood. Not in an academic type of language. But in an effective one. We should actively join those discussions instead of sticking with our own “archi-language” no one else understands.

Cities need less mono-functionalities and more heterogeneity, diversification and built memories in their districts.

Cities represent not only a “conglomeration”, but also a collection, a storehouse of memories and an archive.

At the same time, however, today’s cities are highly dynamic systems characterised by constant change and technical, infrastructural and architectural sub-systems of different scales.

Interest in the multiple use of parts of these sub-systems is experiencing a steady increase in dense urban centres. Today, architectural structures that are approaching the end of their mono-functional utilisation cycles due to technical progress and have become obsolete are increasingly reviewed on their conservation value.


Structures that, officially, have not been declared monuments (yet) and whose conservation value is yet to unfurl out of an open political discussion, look especially interesting.

The building condition assessment required, in other words the identification of the past and current state or use of the building involving coordination with and involvement of experts as well as the public, must be the genuine task of the architect.

Architects possess the skills to identify potential on site and in the structure in question.

Additionally, they can scan cities for possible further potential, provided they stick to a generalist approach.

 The displayed example of the conversion of a former thermal power station in Munich’s Obersendling district illustrates how an obsolete urban building structure once again could be turned into a dynamic architectural system.



Markus Stenger



Das war ein tolles Kolloquium in Weimar letzte Woche mit spannenden, neuen Ansätzen und Kontakten. Der Vortrag über den Umbau des Kraftwerks wurde sehr interessiert aufgenommen.

TIP: Mit "Staub. Eine interdisziplinäre Perspektive" zeigen Daniel Gethmann und Anselm Wagner vom Grazer Institut für Architekturtheorie, Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften der TU Graz die große Bandbreite des Phänomens jenseits von Techniken, eben diesen zu entfernen! 

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Fotos: Markus Stenger