Sitting at the centre of OMA’s 100 hectare masterplan for Zeche Zollverein is a 12,000m2 visitor centre and museum. Located in the former Zollverein Kohlenwäsche – a single building used for the sorting of coal from adjacent mines – the project gives the redundant industrial structure a new and evidently successful use.
The design approach was to maintain the structure as an industrial monument in terms of its interior and exterior essence. This meant inserting a new program whilst visibly retaining as much machinery and structure as possible.
Previously coal would enter the top of the building via a network of enclosed conveyor belts. From here, the coal would travel downwards, being processed along the way. Likewise visitors enter the building via a 24 metre high escalator, from where they travel downwards through a series of temporary and permanent exhibitions.
The entrance floor acts as a distribution zone, complete with an information point, ticketing, a café and shop. Above this level, all machinery has been preserved to give visitors an idea of how the building previously functioned. The lower levels were previously a series of storage silos where coal was located before being transported. These have been divided into a network of themed exhibition spaces for the museum.
The building’s principal circulation is a single stair connecting the entrance level to the lowest public floor. Arriving at the top of the stair is a powerful experience: the analogy of mining processes is furthered by a dark and seemingly endless central void, reminiscent of a mine shaft.
Additional circulation leads to a viewing platform. From here, the building can be read in terms of its surrounding landscape, giving a clue to how the site functioned. On a clear day the site can be viewed in terms of how it functioned within the Ruhr district, for a seeming endless landscape of chimneys and winding gear can be witnessed.