Weber, Brandt and Partners


(Aachen, Germany) 1968-86




The hospital of the medical faculty of the University of Aachen, the largest in Europe, accommodates 1500 patients and 3000 students. It is conceived as 'nothing but organization: social, technical, economic, mental', in the words of Hannes Meyer (1928) whom the architect cites. The basic material infrastructure is a system of routes for the circulation of people, goods and messages, as well as air, light and water, all aimed at restoring health.

The scheme draws heavily on ideas developed during the early 1960s by Team X, particularly those of Shadrach Woods in the Free University of Berlin, and Giancarlo De Carlo's proposal for the University of Dublin, Serge Chermayeff and his collaborators in the USA, and Kenzo Tange in Japan. All those studies looked at buildings as general-purpose networks for information processing, mechanisms for sustaining human communication through a minimal structure of circulation and services within which individuals and groups would interact not only purposely but also playfully and randomly, as in the case of traditional city neighbourhoods.

The gridiron street-avenue circulation system of Manhattan has been repeatedly cited as a paradigm for the general plan layout of many types of building complexes, especially universities. Manhattan's layout as a guiding precedent is apparent in the medical faculty's east-west street pattern which intersects the avenue-like mega-corridors of the hospital. In the words of the architects, the hospital was with its sen/ice towers and, at different levels, green courtyards, 'nothing less than a mini-town . . . being blueprinted, even if it was a somewhat specialized one.' Within this overwhelming structure, a gigantic global organization was to be housed, everything in any way relevant to the process of regaining health under a single roof. Assembling under the same roof a large number of apparatuses and services had obvious benefits of accessibility and what managers call economies of scale. But the architect also had other reasons in mind. Fitting such a diversity of specialists and technicians under a common shelter was intended, for reasons beyond efficiency and effectiveness, to create a sense of common purpose and solidarity through the use of a complete transparency of means for total awareness of the 'intercom nected factors involved in restoring health'.

Its Manhattan-like organization allowed the project to be flexible and open to growth in stages. Thus, consistent with the ideas of the British Archigram group, and in many respects resembling the Piano and Rogers Pompidou Centre (pp. 84-89 - the Aachen hospital was in fact conceived shortly before), the project exposes its mechanical and structurai systems 'deliberately and shamelessly'. Col our is also used to foreground their identity and there is no overwhelming framework inside which all these diverse contraptions are inscribed, other than the grid. As a result, its individual components are free of any formalis tic presuppositions. Given, however, the explo sion of new technological, electronic means of information processing, of simulation and uses of artificial intelligence, one wonders if the very technology which created this efficient and sublime cathedral of health will not soon make it obsolete in its gigantism by relocating much of it onto the family doctor's desk.

(Opposite) Perspective section showing construction and services of the New Medical Faculty of the Technical University of Aachen

IBelow) Isometric drawing of the building and its interior

(Right) The facade at the rear of the building

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