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The Cologne Historical Archive

On the 3rd of September 2021, the City of Cologne took back a space that is very dear to its citizens: the Cologne Historical Archive. On the 3rd of March 2009, the building in which the municipal archive had been kept since 1971 collapsed along with two adjacent buildings, sadly killing two people. Operations to save the documentary material buried below the rubble began immediately and approximately 95% of the archive’s heritage was recovered. Having been cleaned and re-catalogued, the documents could once again be put at the disposal of researchers and the public in a new building. 

In 2011, the municipal authorities launched a competition for the construction of a new archive building that would be built in a different, more strategic area of the city. 40 national and international studios took part in the competition and was won by the Waechter + Waechter Architekten studio from Darmstadt. 

Today, the new building, housing both the Cologne Historical Archive and the Rhineland photography archive, stands in an inner green belt in an area of the city that links the city’s historic centre to its suburbs. 
The waechter + waechter Architekten project has modernised the concept of the archive as requested by the city itself. The concept that is usually at the base of any archive is “protection” and conservation and this was clearly expressed by the previous structure that was isolated from its context and quite shut in with façades marked by extremely small openings. 
The new project, on the other hand, enhances the idea of openness, consultation and knowledge sharing. It is very interesting to note how the need for protection in the Waechter + Waechter project does not play a secondary role, but is transferred from an architectural perspective to a specific space. This is surrounded by a protective, transparent shell that creates a sense of exchange, communication and interaction with the city.
The resulting building therefore consists of a glass-plated ring that encapsulates the Archive’s offices, document restoration and conservation workshops and public consultation rooms. These rooms are spread over three floors plus a basement, and inside this space, there is a second, compact and closed area, housing the actual archival items, that dissects a courtyard with a garden.

The four sides of the building feature bronze louvre systems whose aspect changes according to the viewer’s position and the time of day. These systems play an important role in screening the interiors. The upper part of the inner cube is lit at night by Linealuce mini luminaires fitted with wall grazing optics to create a soft effect that helps the structure stand out from the surrounding buildings and which, during the day, can be flooded with natural light, but also emits light at night.
The areas of the building that are open to the public are fitted with wood strip false ceilings that house part of the building’s systems. The lighting system is also built into the ceiling by means of a special linear recessed Laser Blade luminaire, fitted with flood optics, positioned in the same direction as the strips, so they are well hidden. Most of the lighting is located in profiles suited to installation in a wooden ceiling. 

This lighting system allows different types of luminaire to be mounted on a metal profile, including fixed, recessed, adjustable and wall washer. Individual Laser Blade luminaires, with no profiles, are installed in the area allowing people to circulate. In particular, these are used to illuminate the two-floor foyer, which includes a gallery that is flooded with light during the day from the courtyard and the wooden stairwell. 

In general, linear luminaires have been used to light the horizontal and vertical circulation nodes. In terms of colour temperature, 4000K has been chosen to further emphasize the warm tone of the environment, which is dominated by wood.

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  • Year
  • Client
    City of Cologne
  • Architectural project:
    waechter + waechter Architekten
  • Lighting project:
    Licht Kunst Licht AG
  • Photographer
    Hans-Georg Esch