Logo Wehrhahnlinie

Interview

Fifteen years of planning and construction on the Wehrhahn Line –
a conversation with Heike Klussmann, Jochen Schuh and Markus Schweiger

How did the artists and architects actually come together for the project?

Schuh: This was a wonderful coincidence. For the architectural competition Düsseldorf’s Municipal Dept. of Culture provided the participating architects with a catalog. It featured artists who had been asked to express their basic willingness to take part in the process. We were grateful for this because it meant we had a large selection to choose from. On the other hand, it wasn’t easy because it was purely a catalog of images. We simply opted for the mood of the moment and opted for a few names. And then we grabbed the phone and placed the call to Heike Klussmann.

That sounds like a gut decision.

Schuh: Yes, it was a bit. But, of course, in the back of our minds the fact that it was about architecture, about the design and fit-out for subway stations played a role. Then we specifically looked at how we could imagine doing that in principle with an artist. And Heike Klussmann’s work exhibited such convincing conceptual strengths that we made the call.

And why your affinity to architecture?

Klussmann: I studied Sculpture quite classically at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Afterwards, I went to Berlin, where I then graduated in Multimedia. My work has in fact always had a clear spatial focus and intent. My works quickly became bigger, in the direction of installation, and then I developed an interest in architecture. There had been minor collaborations in the past, but when the phone rang it was such a thrilling request! For both sides. And I thought that the collaboration could give birth to something specially interesting. We started the process without necessarily being able to foresee the entire approach.

So you worked together brainstorming prior to the entry for the competition?

Klussmann: To explain this, we need to take a step back, because this is exactly what’s so special. Before the competition, the City of Düsseldorf decided to work with artists and architects and engineers at every stage of the planning phase. That was what had been decided and defined the conditions then set for works to be developed. It was a bold decision for an experiment. Because it wasn’t possible to say where it would lead us. We had all the opportunities, but also all the risks.

In other words, you were working together as a team even prior to completion of the first proposal?

working model, photo Heike Klussmann und netzwerkarchitekten
working model, photo Heike Klussmann und netzwerkarchitekten


Schwieger: We worked on the competition proposal as a team; in fact, in addition to the artists and architects, there was also a structural engineer and a lighting designer on board. The concept of the continuum and the shape of the space was a result of this collaboration.

Was that holistic package the reason you won the competition?

Schuh: The conditions were the same for all the teams. What made us win – I believe – is that we developed an overarching idea that covered all the stations. And not a different concept for each station. Rather we put the whole thing in a single context, because we thought it was the best solution for a new transportation system in the city. We also had a huge advantage in the sense that we had nothing to lose. We were one of two young offices in a contest featuring ten highly renowned colleagues. Luckily, that didn’t bother us. It was after all an open competition with an interim presentation. Which meant we knew what we were up against and it was obvious we at best had an outside chance. So we were able simply to concentrate on our work and think freely when it came to strategy. It was clear to us that we didn’t want to treat the Wehrhahn Line like a set of beads on a string, with each station built by a different star architect. Rather, we concentrated on developing an integrated concept for the entire line.

So it was all about: nothing to lose, all to gain?

Schwieger: We believed in ourselves. But we thought that, at most, we would realize maybe one of the stations.
Meaning the competition did not hinge on designing an over-arching concept? But that’s was simply how you interpreted it?
Schwieger: We were supposed to develop three stations with completely different structural and framework conditions for the competition. You might think it would be difficult to find a common approach, one that also allows for different construction methods. But it was possible to anchor the concept with our idea.

How much freedom did you have in terms of expanse? The stations come across as very spacious. How was that possible?

Schwieger: We fought to keep them spacious!  

Schuh: There was functional planning on the part of the engineers and this specified the minimum volumes. The goal was to actually waste as little space as possible and to build as efficiently as possible. An exciting dialogue ensued with the engineers after we had won the competition. Because, in reality, it’s possible to understand the geometries quite differently. Clear recesses and high spaces do not automatically spell higher costs!

Schwieger: It was a two-way learning process. After all, we certainly didn’t know everything about tunnel construction, far from it! We had to learn a lot in terms of potential difficulties and, in turn, the engineers had to consider our concept. But this then laid the foundations for the realization of the project.

How quickly did you arrive at the idea on the basis of balancing art and architecture? And how did you develop the idea of the continuum?

Klussmann: On the one hand, the competition called for the development of an edifice based on engineering, it was clearly about functionality in this regard. And, at the same time, it sought to find an answer to the question: How and where can art evolve in this very regulated space such that there’s also room to experiment? We tackled these questions together. With the emergence of the concept, namely that of a continuum that connects all the stations, and of interstices that forge a link between the world underground and the city above: These interstices, these connecting zones with their very specific geometries, they are the places for art. Here, the reality of the transportation structure meets the potentiality of art. Art here is the view out beyond the confines of the particular spaces!

How did the selection of the artists for the individual stations come about?

Schuh: There was a second stage to the competition. The jury took up our proposal and recommended the inclusion of additional artists and the City of Düsseldorf complied and held a competition by inviting 16 artists from the original pool to submit entries. The artists had four weeks to develop a concept. We recommended that the artists have complete freedom in the development and execution of their ideas. We also recommended the involvement of architects who had an affinity for art on the jury.

working model, cut / station Heinrich-Heine-Allee, photo netzwerkarchitekten und Heike Klussmann
working model, cut / station Heinrich-Heine-Allee, photo netzwerkarchitekten und Heike Klussmann


How did the meetings with the artists go?

Schuh: First we listened carefully to what they had to say, what their concepts were. Then, later, in the elaboration stage, we rethought which artist was best for which station. It soon became clear that there was a perfect fit for each station.
In other words, the artists have been on board since 2002?

Schuh: Exactly. But of course the work phases differed in intensity. First, there was the process of getting to know everyone, followed by an intensive work phase. And there were also phases where the artists invited us to their studios to see how they were approaching the task. This was the moment when we decided we would take the City authorities with us to the studios so they could get a feeling for it. And then we arranged studio workshops to discuss the initial results together. That was the in-depth design phase.

The artists had to use new, unfamiliar materials for this very special art in public space, didn’t they? Very durable materials?

Schuh: That’s why it quickly became clear that there had to be a real-life sampling phase early on. With other projects this tends to take place late in the architectural elaboration. The aim was to examine the issues related to materials and the quality of the surfaces in situ. So we planned and built life-size mock-ups for every station - in a decommissioned tunnel at Heinrich Heine Allee.

Klussmann: This was a protracted process, with a lot of to and froing. First, the concept was developed and then the appropriate method identified with which to realize it. You notice when you exit the subway that you’re always asking yourself: Why does it all look the same? And when you become involved in this kind of planning process, you realize: Aha, only glass, steel and concrete comply with the requirements of a public space, fire protection, and so on. At the time we had a lot of concepts. First we wanted to work with light-reflecting materials underground, then we realized that they are flammable. So we had to go for other materials. At the same time, we started developing materials. This is where the BlingCrete or light-reflecting concrete came into being. The project definitely had a catalytic effect on other areas outside of subway construction! And because of the artistic concept it was also possible to expand the limits of the materials to develop different production processes, and join up with companies to create something new.

Schuh: This is because a real-life sampling phase took place together with the companies. A good example is the continuum: This was all about concrete and the dynamic of translating the shape of tunnels into station areas. We tried everything. In the end, we produced the individual geometries with over-sized blocks and increasingly refined milling techniques. In the back of our minds we always had to remember that the entire shell had to be completely accessible in the sense of open to revision. In other words, it had to be possible to remove the panels.

Schwieger: It was also important that the focus was not on removing screws that were externally visible in order to remove the panels but on a hidden mechanism. This has to do with the geometry of the joints. These kinds of questions are very important issues precisely with such a construction.
Klussmann: It was also exciting that the knowledge evolved in SMEs down through the generations interacted so well with our digital know-how. And that by combining the old, existing production processes with the digital led to completely new results for example as regards the individual manufacture of the concrete diamonds for the continuum. Old craftsmanship combined with new production methods – even looking back this is really exciting. The glass panels in Manuel Franke’s project rely on ceramic ink applied by silk-screening: Something like that would normally be produced through additive screen printing, but he used a subtractive method. That’s an example of how an existing process was changed. Or the way the way the floors at Pempelforter Strasse reference the inlaying process.

Schuh: And when you’re working like this, you realize that you need a bit of time – 15 years.

And companies also have to feel challenged to develop their own ideas…

Schuh: Exactly, especially on traditional construction projects there are no opportunities to work in dialog and focus on development, as in such cases time is the imperative. That is precisely what distinguishes this project: the expanded planning stage with the studio workshops. It is what makes is so unlike conventional processes, where the artists become involved at a much later stage. We had the good fortune of having the strong backing of the developers. Because Ms. Blome, the executive responsible at the Municipal Dept. of Traffic Management, is herself an architect and she always had the right sense of proportion and had the courage to let certain things go.

So no skepticism on the part of the developers?

Schuh: There was always a strong sense of trust.

You were a very large team for a long time. Isn’t that kind of set-up prone for crisis? How did you keep things stable?

Schwieger: Amazingly it was the idea itself that kept things going for such a long period. An idea that we developed 15 years ago. And even today I don’t have the feeling that the idea is 15 years old. It simply functioned across all the different levels.

Schuh: We also learned to discuss things. I won’t say that there were no moments of crisis, but there was always a basic consensus, so even tough-talking discussions always turned out positive in the end.

Klussmann: With interdisciplinary projects it’s about advancing your own field, your own work, by placing it in another context. You have to be prepared to commit to leaving your own comfort zone. The people who were on board all had a willingness to take a path that was not always so easy. Even in moments of conflict there was always the feeling that everyone pulled together. Trust grew with time. What I found especially incredible: The quality in all the different fields got better and better. The art gains a quite unique presence through or within the strict framework of a transportation building. At the same time, the interdisciplinary cooperation enabled the strict conditions the engineering set to be taken to the very limits of the feasible in terms of space and the materials and technologies used.

Weren’t artists afraid of getting lost in such a mega-project, in direct comparison to other artists, too? How much did the original ideas change?

Schuh: If I go back through it, we remained consistent, but it did evolve in many places. Especially in terms of collaboration with the artists. The architects didn’t just find ways of realizing what the artists had dreamed up. Everything was decided together. Take the example of Enne Haehnle at Kirchplatz: This is a written sculpture in front of a wall. The question was: How do you deal with the background? If you’re inside the station now, you recognize that the architectural design of the visual relationships, and they extend from the lower to the upper levels (allaying the fears that might otherwise exist in this kind of underground construction), meaning there is synergy that does not overstate its case but is also not restrained.

The art is present without jumping out at you.

Schwieger: Overall, my thoughts are as follows: The competition took a lot of space and we created very large spaces. Conditions became more constrained in the follow-up planning. But the concept still worked. I think that’s amazing.

Regardless of the restrictions, the basic impression is one of space and spaciousness! There’s air, no claustrophobic spaces. How did it actually begin?

Schuh: We looked at the existing stations, walked along the routes and dealt with the shield tunnel driving technology, which operates automatically. And when we saw it, it simply “clicked!” It was obvious that there had to be an expansion of these surfaces. Heike made an incredible sketch of it. And the basic foundations were laid. You always need a moment like that. And then we realized it worked. There are decades between the individual steps! And there are indeed personal tastes involved! We were aware that we needed a concept that was resilient and had the potential to develop. For example, the discussion about the colored spaces was incredible: If you try to define color it’s difficult, above all with artists. And where municipal authorities are concerned, the question quickly arises: How will this color be seen in 20 years’ time? And in the architecture, how does it work from one station to the next station? We conceived of the colored spaces somewhat conceptually to convey the basic idea of the continuum and the interstices. The basic resilience of the concept swiftly emerged. We were able to ignore many a formal issue because of the strength that lies within the concept’s origin.

Klussmann: The colored spaces that we initially considered conceptually evolved within the artistic processes themselves. For example, with Ursula Damm we had a case where the color blue, which is influential in her project, expanded the space. Or at the Pempelforter Strasse station in my concept the questions were: Can a black-and-white space directly abut on a black-and-white space? Does it work?

Schuh: It’s nice that you’re asking this question now! … We also tested the colors a few times, and we all liked them. But then, all of a sudden, we weren’t sure. The mystery that distinguishes the space as a shrouding sculpture would have been lost.

How much did the art cost in terms of the overall package, if one could even itemize the costs separately?

Schuh: We kept to the same budget as the other subway stations – for example, Moskauer Strasse. The City of Düsseldorf had only assigned a small additional amount for the art. By interacting at an early stage, considerable synergies were tapped between the construction work, the art and the architecture. In many instances, the cost of realizing the art was subsumed under the construction costs for the high-quality finishing of the stations.

When one thinks of other major building projects, such as the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg or the Opera House in Cologne, neither of which are in time or in budget, the Wehrhahn Line is a notable exception. Were there crises?

Schuh: There have been crises, there always are with such a large-scale project.  The world market is constantly changing and steel prices are on the rise. That plays a role. There have even been recent crises, when companies went bankrupt. But then it was surprisingly easy to find new companies.

What about what the Cologne subway construction site caved in. Was that a shock?

Schuh: Certainly, at the time work on the shell of the tunnel was relatively advanced. But then it was even more closely scrutinized. With wary eyes. At the time members of the state prosecutor’s office came by and examined the construction site.

Is the Wehrhahn Line currently the most innovative subway?

Schuh: It certainly reflects a very high standard. Right up to fire safety. After the fire at the airport the issue was highly sensitive in Düsseldorf. Naturally, we looked around to see what else was out there, in Europe and the world. The spacious stations really derive from the fact that we want to alleviate people's fears when down in a subway. To create visual relationships, easy relationships, so that one never has the feeling of being confined. That could set a standard.

How have people reacted?

Schwieger: I tried to be a fly on the wall during the initial public tours. And I always heard that the size and clarity was impressive. Then I thought: Mission accomplished! Naturally, the artworks evoke controversial reactions. But that’s what’s exciting about how they’re interpreted. People have a favorable take on the project as a whole, which is unique. Despite the long construction phase. The fact that the project was well communicated and that it was more or less in time and budget definitely had something to do with it. There were no scandals, no accidents.

Schuh: What’s exciting is what will happen next. The new stations bring a whole new dynamic to bear. Shops will relocate. Subway construction has always been a solution when it comes to questions of mobility in urban areas. We will be passing our knowledge on to other cities. But we’ve shown that entering into these kinds of projects with such naivety can make a big difference. That is what the approach here stood out for.

Why does the City of Düsseldorf have such a strong wish to bring art to the fore? Especially in terms of the results here?

Schuh: It has a lot to do with Düsseldorf and the status of art here. We had a strong partner at our side in the form of the Municipal Dept. of Culture. It’s not easy to enter into this kind of a marriage. But we always had a wonderful marriage counselor – Ulla Lux moderated all phases and then forwarded the outcomes to City Hall. I was fascinated by just how much significance is placed on art here in Düsseldorf.

Are you satisfied with the overall result?

Klussmann: It’s great, everyone involved is very happy. Maybe we even surprised ourselves by what art, architecture and technology can achieve together.

Questions from Regine Müller
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Wehrhahnlinie Duesseldorf, Interview, netzwerkarchitekten, Heike Klussmann, Kontinuum

Interview

Fifteen years of planning and construction on the Wehrhahn Line –
a conversation with Heike Klussmann, Jochen Schuh and Markus Schweiger

How did the artists and architects actually come together for the project?

Schuh: This was a wonderful coincidence. For the architectural competition Düsseldorf’s Municipal Dept. of Culture provided the participating architects with a catalog. It featured artists who had been asked to express their basic willingness to take part in the process. We were grateful for this because it meant we had a large selection to choose from. On the other hand, it wasn’t easy because it was purely a catalog of images. We simply opted for the mood of the moment and opted for a few names. And then we grabbed the phone and placed the call to Heike Klussmann.

That sounds like a gut decision.

Schuh: Yes, it was a bit. But, of course, in the back of our minds the fact that it was about architecture, about the design and fit-out for subway stations played a role. Then we specifically looked at how we could imagine doing that in principle with an artist. And Heike Klussmann’s work exhibited such convincing conceptual strengths that we made the call.

And why your affinity to architecture?

Klussmann: I studied Sculpture quite classically at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Afterwards, I went to Berlin, where I then graduated in Multimedia. My work has in fact always had a clear spatial focus and intent. My works quickly became bigger, in the direction of installation, and then I developed an interest in architecture. There had been minor collaborations in the past, but when the phone rang it was such a thrilling request! For both sides. And I thought that the collaboration could give birth to something specially interesting. We started the process without necessarily being able to foresee the entire approach.

So you worked together brainstorming prior to the entry for the competition?

Klussmann: To explain this, we need to take a step back, because this is exactly what’s so special. Before the competition, the City of Düsseldorf decided to work with artists and architects and engineers at every stage of the planning phase. That was what had been decided and defined the conditions then set for works to be developed. It was a bold decision for an experiment. Because it wasn’t possible to say where it would lead us. We had all the opportunities, but also all the risks.

In other words, you were working together as a team even prior to completion of the first proposal?

working model, photo Heike Klussmann und netzwerkarchitekten
working model, photo Heike Klussmann und netzwerkarchitekten


Schwieger: We worked on the competition proposal as a team; in fact, in addition to the artists and architects, there was also a structural engineer and a lighting designer on board. The concept of the continuum and the shape of the space was a result of this collaboration.

Was that holistic package the reason you won the competition?

Schuh: The conditions were the same for all the teams. What made us win – I believe – is that we developed an overarching idea that covered all the stations. And not a different concept for each station. Rather we put the whole thing in a single context, because we thought it was the best solution for a new transportation system in the city. We also had a huge advantage in the sense that we had nothing to lose. We were one of two young offices in a contest featuring ten highly renowned colleagues. Luckily, that didn’t bother us. It was after all an open competition with an interim presentation. Which meant we knew what we were up against and it was obvious we at best had an outside chance. So we were able simply to concentrate on our work and think freely when it came to strategy. It was clear to us that we didn’t want to treat the Wehrhahn Line like a set of beads on a string, with each station built by a different star architect. Rather, we concentrated on developing an integrated concept for the entire line.

So it was all about: nothing to lose, all to gain?

Schwieger: We believed in ourselves. But we thought that, at most, we would realize maybe one of the stations.
Meaning the competition did not hinge on designing an over-arching concept? But that’s was simply how you interpreted it?
Schwieger: We were supposed to develop three stations with completely different structural and framework conditions for the competition. You might think it would be difficult to find a common approach, one that also allows for different construction methods. But it was possible to anchor the concept with our idea.

How much freedom did you have in terms of expanse? The stations come across as very spacious. How was that possible?

Schwieger: We fought to keep them spacious!  

Schuh: There was functional planning on the part of the engineers and this specified the minimum volumes. The goal was to actually waste as little space as possible and to build as efficiently as possible. An exciting dialogue ensued with the engineers after we had won the competition. Because, in reality, it’s possible to understand the geometries quite differently. Clear recesses and high spaces do not automatically spell higher costs!

Schwieger: It was a two-way learning process. After all, we certainly didn’t know everything about tunnel construction, far from it! We had to learn a lot in terms of potential difficulties and, in turn, the engineers had to consider our concept. But this then laid the foundations for the realization of the project.

How quickly did you arrive at the idea on the basis of balancing art and architecture? And how did you develop the idea of the continuum?

Klussmann: On the one hand, the competition called for the development of an edifice based on engineering, it was clearly about functionality in this regard. And, at the same time, it sought to find an answer to the question: How and where can art evolve in this very regulated space such that there’s also room to experiment? We tackled these questions together. With the emergence of the concept, namely that of a continuum that connects all the stations, and of interstices that forge a link between the world underground and the city above: These interstices, these connecting zones with their very specific geometries, they are the places for art. Here, the reality of the transportation structure meets the potentiality of art. Art here is the view out beyond the confines of the particular spaces!

How did the selection of the artists for the individual stations come about?

Schuh: There was a second stage to the competition. The jury took up our proposal and recommended the inclusion of additional artists and the City of Düsseldorf complied and held a competition by inviting 16 artists from the original pool to submit entries. The artists had four weeks to develop a concept. We recommended that the artists have complete freedom in the development and execution of their ideas. We also recommended the involvement of architects who had an affinity for art on the jury.

working model, cut / station Heinrich-Heine-Allee, photo netzwerkarchitekten und Heike Klussmann
working model, cut / station Heinrich-Heine-Allee, photo netzwerkarchitekten und Heike Klussmann


How did the meetings with the artists go?

Schuh: First we listened carefully to what they had to say, what their concepts were. Then, later, in the elaboration stage, we rethought which artist was best for which station. It soon became clear that there was a perfect fit for each station.
In other words, the artists have been on board since 2002?

Schuh: Exactly. But of course the work phases differed in intensity. First, there was the process of getting to know everyone, followed by an intensive work phase. And there were also phases where the artists invited us to their studios to see how they were approaching the task. This was the moment when we decided we would take the City authorities with us to the studios so they could get a feeling for it. And then we arranged studio workshops to discuss the initial results together. That was the in-depth design phase.

The artists had to use new, unfamiliar materials for this very special art in public space, didn’t they? Very durable materials?

Schuh: That’s why it quickly became clear that there had to be a real-life sampling phase early on. With other projects this tends to take place late in the architectural elaboration. The aim was to examine the issues related to materials and the quality of the surfaces in situ. So we planned and built life-size mock-ups for every station - in a decommissioned tunnel at Heinrich Heine Allee.

Klussmann: This was a protracted process, with a lot of to and froing. First, the concept was developed and then the appropriate method identified with which to realize it. You notice when you exit the subway that you’re always asking yourself: Why does it all look the same? And when you become involved in this kind of planning process, you realize: Aha, only glass, steel and concrete comply with the requirements of a public space, fire protection, and so on. At the time we had a lot of concepts. First we wanted to work with light-reflecting materials underground, then we realized that they are flammable. So we had to go for other materials. At the same time, we started developing materials. This is where the BlingCrete or light-reflecting concrete came into being. The project definitely had a catalytic effect on other areas outside of subway construction! And because of the artistic concept it was also possible to expand the limits of the materials to develop different production processes, and join up with companies to create something new.

Schuh: This is because a real-life sampling phase took place together with the companies. A good example is the continuum: This was all about concrete and the dynamic of translating the shape of tunnels into station areas. We tried everything. In the end, we produced the individual geometries with over-sized blocks and increasingly refined milling techniques. In the back of our minds we always had to remember that the entire shell had to be completely accessible in the sense of open to revision. In other words, it had to be possible to remove the panels.

Schwieger: It was also important that the focus was not on removing screws that were externally visible in order to remove the panels but on a hidden mechanism. This has to do with the geometry of the joints. These kinds of questions are very important issues precisely with such a construction.
Klussmann: It was also exciting that the knowledge evolved in SMEs down through the generations interacted so well with our digital know-how. And that by combining the old, existing production processes with the digital led to completely new results for example as regards the individual manufacture of the concrete diamonds for the continuum. Old craftsmanship combined with new production methods – even looking back this is really exciting. The glass panels in Manuel Franke’s project rely on ceramic ink applied by silk-screening: Something like that would normally be produced through additive screen printing, but he used a subtractive method. That’s an example of how an existing process was changed. Or the way the way the floors at Pempelforter Strasse reference the inlaying process.

Schuh: And when you’re working like this, you realize that you need a bit of time – 15 years.

And companies also have to feel challenged to develop their own ideas…

Schuh: Exactly, especially on traditional construction projects there are no opportunities to work in dialog and focus on development, as in such cases time is the imperative. That is precisely what distinguishes this project: the expanded planning stage with the studio workshops. It is what makes is so unlike conventional processes, where the artists become involved at a much later stage. We had the good fortune of having the strong backing of the developers. Because Ms. Blome, the executive responsible at the Municipal Dept. of Traffic Management, is herself an architect and she always had the right sense of proportion and had the courage to let certain things go.

So no skepticism on the part of the developers?

Schuh: There was always a strong sense of trust.

You were a very large team for a long time. Isn’t that kind of set-up prone for crisis? How did you keep things stable?

Schwieger: Amazingly it was the idea itself that kept things going for such a long period. An idea that we developed 15 years ago. And even today I don’t have the feeling that the idea is 15 years old. It simply functioned across all the different levels.

Schuh: We also learned to discuss things. I won’t say that there were no moments of crisis, but there was always a basic consensus, so even tough-talking discussions always turned out positive in the end.

Klussmann: With interdisciplinary projects it’s about advancing your own field, your own work, by placing it in another context. You have to be prepared to commit to leaving your own comfort zone. The people who were on board all had a willingness to take a path that was not always so easy. Even in moments of conflict there was always the feeling that everyone pulled together. Trust grew with time. What I found especially incredible: The quality in all the different fields got better and better. The art gains a quite unique presence through or within the strict framework of a transportation building. At the same time, the interdisciplinary cooperation enabled the strict conditions the engineering set to be taken to the very limits of the feasible in terms of space and the materials and technologies used.

Weren’t artists afraid of getting lost in such a mega-project, in direct comparison to other artists, too? How much did the original ideas change?

Schuh: If I go back through it, we remained consistent, but it did evolve in many places. Especially in terms of collaboration with the artists. The architects didn’t just find ways of realizing what the artists had dreamed up. Everything was decided together. Take the example of Enne Haehnle at Kirchplatz: This is a written sculpture in front of a wall. The question was: How do you deal with the background? If you’re inside the station now, you recognize that the architectural design of the visual relationships, and they extend from the lower to the upper levels (allaying the fears that might otherwise exist in this kind of underground construction), meaning there is synergy that does not overstate its case but is also not restrained.

The art is present without jumping out at you.

Schwieger: Overall, my thoughts are as follows: The competition took a lot of space and we created very large spaces. Conditions became more constrained in the follow-up planning. But the concept still worked. I think that’s amazing.

Regardless of the restrictions, the basic impression is one of space and spaciousness! There’s air, no claustrophobic spaces. How did it actually begin?

Schuh: We looked at the existing stations, walked along the routes and dealt with the shield tunnel driving technology, which operates automatically. And when we saw it, it simply “clicked!” It was obvious that there had to be an expansion of these surfaces. Heike made an incredible sketch of it. And the basic foundations were laid. You always need a moment like that. And then we realized it worked. There are decades between the individual steps! And there are indeed personal tastes involved! We were aware that we needed a concept that was resilient and had the potential to develop. For example, the discussion about the colored spaces was incredible: If you try to define color it’s difficult, above all with artists. And where municipal authorities are concerned, the question quickly arises: How will this color be seen in 20 years’ time? And in the architecture, how does it work from one station to the next station? We conceived of the colored spaces somewhat conceptually to convey the basic idea of the continuum and the interstices. The basic resilience of the concept swiftly emerged. We were able to ignore many a formal issue because of the strength that lies within the concept’s origin.

Klussmann: The colored spaces that we initially considered conceptually evolved within the artistic processes themselves. For example, with Ursula Damm we had a case where the color blue, which is influential in her project, expanded the space. Or at the Pempelforter Strasse station in my concept the questions were: Can a black-and-white space directly abut on a black-and-white space? Does it work?

Schuh: It’s nice that you’re asking this question now! … We also tested the colors a few times, and we all liked them. But then, all of a sudden, we weren’t sure. The mystery that distinguishes the space as a shrouding sculpture would have been lost.

How much did the art cost in terms of the overall package, if one could even itemize the costs separately?

Schuh: We kept to the same budget as the other subway stations – for example, Moskauer Strasse. The City of Düsseldorf had only assigned a small additional amount for the art. By interacting at an early stage, considerable synergies were tapped between the construction work, the art and the architecture. In many instances, the cost of realizing the art was subsumed under the construction costs for the high-quality finishing of the stations.

When one thinks of other major building projects, such as the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg or the Opera House in Cologne, neither of which are in time or in budget, the Wehrhahn Line is a notable exception. Were there crises?

Schuh: There have been crises, there always are with such a large-scale project.  The world market is constantly changing and steel prices are on the rise. That plays a role. There have even been recent crises, when companies went bankrupt. But then it was surprisingly easy to find new companies.

What about what the Cologne subway construction site caved in. Was that a shock?

Schuh: Certainly, at the time work on the shell of the tunnel was relatively advanced. But then it was even more closely scrutinized. With wary eyes. At the time members of the state prosecutor’s office came by and examined the construction site.

Is the Wehrhahn Line currently the most innovative subway?

Schuh: It certainly reflects a very high standard. Right up to fire safety. After the fire at the airport the issue was highly sensitive in Düsseldorf. Naturally, we looked around to see what else was out there, in Europe and the world. The spacious stations really derive from the fact that we want to alleviate people's fears when down in a subway. To create visual relationships, easy relationships, so that one never has the feeling of being confined. That could set a standard.

How have people reacted?

Schwieger: I tried to be a fly on the wall during the initial public tours. And I always heard that the size and clarity was impressive. Then I thought: Mission accomplished! Naturally, the artworks evoke controversial reactions. But that’s what’s exciting about how they’re interpreted. People have a favorable take on the project as a whole, which is unique. Despite the long construction phase. The fact that the project was well communicated and that it was more or less in time and budget definitely had something to do with it. There were no scandals, no accidents.

Schuh: What’s exciting is what will happen next. The new stations bring a whole new dynamic to bear. Shops will relocate. Subway construction has always been a solution when it comes to questions of mobility in urban areas. We will be passing our knowledge on to other cities. But we’ve shown that entering into these kinds of projects with such naivety can make a big difference. That is what the approach here stood out for.

Why does the City of Düsseldorf have such a strong wish to bring art to the fore? Especially in terms of the results here?

Schuh: It has a lot to do with Düsseldorf and the status of art here. We had a strong partner at our side in the form of the Municipal Dept. of Culture. It’s not easy to enter into this kind of a marriage. But we always had a wonderful marriage counselor – Ulla Lux moderated all phases and then forwarded the outcomes to City Hall. I was fascinated by just how much significance is placed on art here in Düsseldorf.

Are you satisfied with the overall result?

Klussmann: It’s great, everyone involved is very happy. Maybe we even surprised ourselves by what art, architecture and technology can achieve together.

Questions from Regine Müller
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Wehrhahnlinie Duesseldorf, Interview, netzwerkarchitekten, Heike Klussmann, Kontinuum