Ian Ritchie Architects were invited to compete in a limited international competition to design an academy for the retraining of German civil servants on the site of a polluted former coal pit in Herne in August 1991.
The buildings containing the seminar rooms, administration, residential accommodation and leisure facilities are placed along a new landscape route connecting the town centres of Herne and Sodingen through a new woodland park.
The concept of the buildings bordering a valley provides the opportunity to draw the public through the academy, creating a secure and enjoyable spatial experience. The impact of the buildings on the naturally developing birch woodland is reduced and the landscape and buildings become inseparable.
The landscape design limits itself to establishing two ecosystems: the birch wood and the valley with its stream and meadow. The landscape is structured through lines which link it via ‘vicolli’ – narrow stair passages – to the valley. These lines offer the opportunity for residents and artists to intervene in the landscape.
South facing private academy gardens open into landscaped clearings within the wood providing outdoor seminar rooms.
The energy concept is structured around the exploitation of methane produced in the disused shafts for use in a combined heat system. Solar energy is collected in glazed buffer zones. Sewage and organic waste is recycled on site. All other waste is separated and used on site where possible.
Ian Ritchie Architects, the sole UK participants, collaborating with Schmidt-Reuter and Ateliers 1+10, were awarded 1st place by the architect panel and joint 2nd prize by the full jury in the competition.