With the rise of private television programs in late 1990s Germany, the city of Cologne experienced a growing demand for alternative, modern work-live arrangements. Ehrenfeld, a former mixed use neighborhood with its industrial warehouses, houses, and carefree environment, met the demands of the creators and freelance professionals who were looking for spaces to live and work under the same roof. Despite the high demand for mixed use spaces in the spirit of loft apartments, their availability was very low. The client therefore commissioned the design of a “new loft” building on the property of Messing Müller, a long-standing craft business. The name Kölner Brett, as the street and building are also called, comes from a three-track curtain rail that is pre-assembled on a wooden board. The idea behind this configurable invention is adopted in many aspects of the building design, most notably in the exterior circulation and terraces.
The building provides twelve individual dwellings, each consisting of two connected boxes: one upright double-height space and another horizontal single-height one. The L-shape of these two main zones makes several adjustments and extensions available to the users, including the possibility of joining neighboring units into an even larger space. The L-form also creates spatial continuity while differentiating functions. The apartments can be accessed via an exterior circulation system, hanging from the building like an oversized vendor’s tray, evoking the flexibility of the Kölner Brett. This facilitates the internal adaptability, reflecting the site’s ongoing urban development as a former commercial and industrial area in constant transition with uncertain ends. The external platforms and staircases also offer the building a non-city-like quality of a multilevel front garden.
The interiors are characterized by the raw concrete walls and heavy oak floors; the absence of partition walls allows the user to individually configure the space. This idea of free use and self-development is also true for the bathroom and kitchen facilities since the only preinstalled elements are the shafts. The units are glazed on both the north and south sides, which emphasizes a sense of uninterrupted interior space. The facade consists of reinforced fiberglass elements that cover the concrete surfaces with greenish reflections. The modular concept of the project was adapted by the German electronic post-rock trio To Rococo Rot for an LP entitled Kölner Brett released by Staubgold records. This followed the idea that the building—and architecture more generally—can connect with other disciplines, which led to the project’s first publication in Rolling Stone magazine.