• 2021 / 2019 / 2018
  • negotiating ungers
  • the materiality of the social
  • international summer school 2019
  • the OBERHAUSENER INSTITUT ZUR ERLANGUNG DER HOCHSCHULREIFE (today: niederrhein kolleg) realized by oswald mathias ungers between 1953 and 1959 is a project that leads to the center of the architectural debate of the 1950s in germany. we used this project as the starting point of the second summer school at the ungers archiv für architekturwissenschaft in cologne in july 2019 with students from the ku leuven, faculty of architecture and the kunstakademie düsseldorf.

    dormitories, oberhausen institute, (oswald mathias ungers, cologne, 1959)

    the oberhausen institute combined a progressive pedagogical approach with a new ARCHITECTURAL LANGUAGE, which linked the architecture of the federal republic of germany to the larger european post-war context and to transnational networks such as team 10. the project is one of the most interesting educational buildings of the postwar period. ungers’ design followed emancipatory ideas; the spatial arrangement and the material aesthetics of the school were conceived in close dialogue with the desired social processes and structures.

    using current approaches to the sociology of architecture as the methodological basis of the analysis of the oberhausen institute, we questioned the building as a material, aesthetic and social structure: what is the MATERIALITY OF THE SOCIAL? does the building have an agency of its own? how does the architecture of the oberhausen institute structure the lives of its users? how does it reflect pedagogical ideas and ideals of society of the 1950s?

    house belvederestraße 60, (oswald mathias ungers, cologne, 1958)

    during the SUMMER SCHOOL, we analyzed the oberhausen institute, its place in the historical context and its potential for the present. our investigation was supported by lectures, interviews, discussions, individual text readings as well as through group work with the historical materials in the ungers archiv für architekturwissenschaft. for the analysis of the building, we visited the niederrhein kolleg and met with former users of the school.

    throughout the week, students were also asked how architecture can be communicated and displayed through images, installations and texts. in a concluding EXHIBITION at the ungers archiv für architekturwissenschaft, different positions on the oberhausen institute were presented, which critically negotiated ungers’ project.

    oswald mathias ungers

    the STUDENTS’ ANALYSES during the summer school showed that a discussion of the spaces of learning and living together at the oberhausen institute are still relevant today. examining the relation of individual and shared spaces, their respective materialization and its affect on social behaviours, the oberhausen institute can stand as a model of a cityscape and of a democratic society.

    approaching the house without qualities

    the summer school took place from july 15–19, 2019 at the ungers archiv für architekturwissenschaft in cologne

    • students:
    • ku leuven, faculty of architecture
    • kunstakademie düsseldorf
    • ungers archiv für architekturwissenschaft

    calendar / blog

    monday july 15, 2019

    tour: house belvederestraße 60 (oswald mathias ungers, cologne, 1958)

    touring ungers’ private library

    inside the house without qualities

    introduction: the oberhausen institute

    discussion: theories of the sociology of architecture: an overview

    text: THOMAS F. GIERYN, what buildings do, 2002

    tour: house without qualities (oswald mathias ungers, cologne, 1996)

    tuesday july 16, 2019

    site visit: niederrhein kolleg, meeting with former and current users of the school

    gathering outside the dormitories at the niederrhein kolleg

    discussion: HEINZ ISSELHORST (verein der freunde und förderer des nrk) narratives of past student life

    talk: DONATELLA FIORETTI (kunstakademie düsseldorf) materiality in educational buildings

    discussion: reflecting on the results of the day

    wednesday july 17, 2019

    research: design sketches: how did ungers design the oberhausen institute

    viewing the original drawings of the oberhausen institute

    discussion: displaying architecture: conceptual development and design intention in architecture exhibitions

    talk: GREGOR HARBUSCH (architecture historian, berlin) school buildings in the post-war period

    listening to gregor harbusch

    task: defining interpretations of the materialization of the social

    thursday july 18, 2019

    task: developing positions

    preparing content for the exhibition

    group presentation: concept and display strategies

    friday july 19, 2019



    setting up the exhibition

    exhibition opening

    the oberhausen institute

    the architectural project for the OBERHAUSEN INSTITUT started in 1953, when the director of the school heinrich bauer contacted the young architect UNGERS on advice of the architecture journalist ulrich conrads. the oberhausen institute was a new type of college, offering a second chance to students who had not finished high school. the school had already opened its doors in the same year as ungers’ meeting with bauer, with courses being held in an existing school building on the future site of the new school. while the teaching program was underway, ungers began planning facilities for student housing, for common rooms like an assembly hall, the school’s canteen, classrooms and laboratories for the natural sciences. his design followed the idea of a school which served not only as a place for learning, but provided an overall educational program.1 this program included collective living and shared daily activities according to the principles of the school and to the codes of conduct that the students would develop themselves in this environment.

    sketch of the OBERHAUSEN INSTITUTE, looking towards assembly hall across the schoolyard

    in postwar germany, school architecture was considered an important tool for a DEMOCRATIC RE-EDUCATION. the spaces for living and learning for the new generation were laboratories in which the new democratic system was to prove its effectiveness on a group level. if it worked on the small scale, so the contemporary assumption, there was reason for hope that it would work also on the larger level of german society.2 at the same time, german architects were making efforts to reconnect with international networks, one of which was the young ungers, who visited CIAM IX in aix-en-provence in 1953. ciam ix was at the origin of a group later to become known as TEAM 10, whose members sought to reform modernism from the inside by breaking away from its more rigid, functionalist dogmas towards a more avant-gardist program.3 it was here that ungers was confronted with new theoretical debates and design strategies which would later inform his work.


    the FORMAL LAYOUT of the oberhausen institute was highly influenced by contemporary ideas on space and society, and by the architectural debate on modular or patterned schemes and clusters heralded by team 10 architects. ungers grouped the assembly hall, the school’s canteen, classrooms and laboratories into the main building, which would be finished in 1959, and housed the more private dormitory spaces in separate buildings, which opened in 1956. while the main building, adorned by some brutalist features, followed a more “conventional” floor plan, the students dorm rooms were organized in groups, clustered around a central staircase, and forming a loose arrangement around a central courtyard.

    OBERHAUSEN INSTITUTE, view of the assembly hall from the old school building

    OBERHAUSEN INSTITUTE, interior of assembly hall with brick and concrete relief

    the institute is interesting for a study of the MATERIALITY OF THE SOCIAL not only with regard to the role it was ascribed in building up a new society after the war through the means of an architectural experiment. the overall organization of UNGERS’ plan as well as the more detailed planning of the private and public spaces and their interrelations serves as a valuable starting point for an analyses of the relation of spatial layout to behavior, use and social life.

    OBERHAUSEN INSTITUTE, south-east elevation of dormitories


    1. heinrich bauer, “man sollte ein haus bauen können…: von der baukunst, der bildung und dem vierten zeitalter,” baukunst und werkform 8, no. 3 (1955).

    2. on the discussion on student living see for example bauwelt 50, 51/52 (1959), which asks “how the new generation lives” and features the oberhausen institute on page 1506–09.

    3. on ungers, ciam, team 10 and the oberhausen institute see jasper cepl, oswald mathias ungers: eine intellektuelle biographie (köln: könig, 2007), p. 38–47.


    exhibition of the results of the summer school (image credit: bernd grimm)

    the summer school looked at the architecture of the OBERHAUSEN INSTITUTE. our aim was to analyze how the material structures of the school related to the social. in order to do so, we discussed different perspectives on the topic and considered a broad range of presentation formats and media on how to best convey these perspectives. in so doing, we developed various positions towards the oberhausen institute and, more globally, towards the question, how materiality and social life, social structures, use patterns and shared aesthetic experiences belong together. besides research on texts and drawings, the visit to the niederrhein kolleg as it exists today along with the accounts and various anecdotes of former students and teachers of the school guided the study of how buildings mediate social behavior.

    original publications featuring the oberhausen institute (image credit: bernd grimm)

    four different positions took shape during the discussions:

    how can a pedagogical concept be translated into a spatial layout?

    verónica emilia tapia abril, sascha lehnhardt and jeffa vandecasteele analyzed how ungers developed the design for the school. their focus was on the relationship of individual spaces and the educational and common spaces.

    three diagrams describe the different spatial forms of the design proposals (image credit: bernd grimm)

    “the design of the oberhausen institute emerged out of a dialogue between heinrich bauer, the director of the school, and ungers, the architect. bauer’s commission for the design in 1953 initiated a period of at least one and a half years of coordinated work.

    bauer had a specific idea of a new educational structure which was to build up the new social and political system to be established in west germany. he thought of an organically structured education that was focused on holistic learning.

    ungers translated these ideas into a number of design proposals, suggesting different spatial forms of organization. after the first drawings, two opposite schemes were developed further: a large block including all functions and a fragmented pavilion structure. the final plan combined both schemes into a comprehensive layout.”

    how can windows negotiate social space?

    başak işik, annelien seys and robin vleeschouwers were interested in the window wall of the stairwells in the living quarters. the design and position of the window within the building composition suggested a structuring of social interaction.

    WINDOWS are the vital apparatus that connects inside and outside. they have significant locations in the oberhausen institute. the main STAIRS of each dorm unit face the greenery surrounding the campus. the large glass walls in these spaces invite nature inside the most commonly used area of the dorms and transform circulation into a delightful experience.

    a scaled abstraction of the stairwell window in the dormitories (image credit: bernd grimm)

    the dorms are organized around a wide courtyard with old trees where the students can socialize, which is directly accessible from each dorm unit. by contrast, the staircase space opens up the view towards the surroundings and visually connects the campus with its environment. our installation aims to parallel the dorms with the exhibition space in the haus belvederestraße 60, which ungers designed at the same time. both spaces open towards the courtyard, and have visual connections towards the exterior space.”

    how does the building define use patterns?

    yasaman hedayat, margot schurmans and amber van houdt concentrated on the interaction of original behaviors and use structures of the oberhausen institute. based on recollections of former students, they developed a narrative of how the architecture mediates social relationships.

    “in his design for the oberhausen institute, ungers planned a generous amount of common spaces. the individual spaces were limited: in the first years, three students slept in a room. this forced the inhabiting students to organize themselves properly.

    a comic illustrates student life in the oberhausen institute of the 1950’s (image credit: bernd grimm)

    the comic book retraces the uses of the building in the 1950s, according to the REPORTS OF FORMER STUDENTS. it departs from an individual perspective in order to focus on the dialogue between the student and the build environment. the sequence of scenes is made of punctual highlights, and reflects the partial nature of the students’ memories, which are both incomplete and individual.”

    how has the building been adapted to new use patterns?

    chaoyu huang, cansu koçdemir and ying zhao examined the oberhausen institute as it stands today and how contemporary behaviors and needs have affected the architecture. looking at the traces of use they posited how the building has been adapted to current habits.

    “as society’s habits change, the layout of both individual and common spaces is affected. TODAY, the sleeping rooms of the oberhausen institute are occupied by one person and the common space of the restaurant has been reconverted.

    a video shows today’s perceived use patterns in the oberhausen institute (image credit: bernd grimm)

    the projection made up by a series of flashing images depicts a possible INDIVIDUAL USE PATTERN during one day at the school. the series of images represents our own interpretation of how we perceive the spaces and how we envision ourselves behaving in the area.”