Neue Direktion, Germany

11th August 2020

In a bid to create a perfect symbiosis of old and new, Neue Direktion, housed in the former Directorate of German Railways in Cologne, fuses traditional architecture with modern design to create a striking new feature in the German city.

Situated in an open area directly on the Rhine and in the immediate vicinity of both Cologne Central Station and Cologne Cathedral, Neue Direktion was rebuilt according to the design of the kadawlttfeldarchitektur office, in cooperation with Graf + Graf Architects. Based on both the new and old architecture, Licht Kunst Licht has developed a lighting concept that highlights the historic charm of the building with a splendid light, while also providing a flexible, modern lighting concept for the office spaces. In all areas, it was important for the lighting solution to remain hidden in the background, instead letting the architecture itself shine.

Under the premise of “tradition meets modernity”, planners Hochtief Projektentwicklung alongside the architects, sought to redesign the former railway directorate in a way that would pay homage to the strong historical context of the site, while still creating a fresh, modern appearance within the context of Cologne’s Rhine panorama.

As such, the renovation follows a fine line between the preservation of the listed building and its historical façade, and the creation of a completely new, contemporary roof level, whose silhouette pays tribute to the original roof contours.

With the interaction of the neoclassical original façade and the new glass structure, the Neue Direktion sets an architectural precedent in the Cologne Rhine panorama. Four of the seven floors of the building sit inside the historic shell, while 30,000sqm of office space has been created within a modern and flexible office infrastructure. The development on the property was planned and built in accordance with the sustainable criteria of the German Sustainable Building Council, and was awarded the DGNB Gold Standard for Sustainability in October 2016. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been renting the office spaces since May 2016.

Inside, both the architects and Licht Kunst Licht worked in close cooperation with the Department of Cultural Heritage Protection on the interiors. The impressive, historic entrance hall, the large ceiling oval and the grand staircase are some of the architectural features that have been faithfully recreated. In all instances, per the Department of Cultural Heritage Protection’s instructions, there were deliberately no visible lighting fixtures. Instead, Licht Kunst Licht worked on custom designs for the best possible integration of light into the architecture.

Because of its stringent requirements, the lighting concept for the entire building was planned in close coordination with the Department of Cultural Heritage Protection, and therefore also the architecture. Such close collaboration however, provided some challenges for the lighting designers, as Benjamin Dorff of Licht Kunst Licht explained: “The light concept was planned with the Department of Cultural Heritage Protection, which in some cases meant that it was not easy to meet current lighting standards.

“We had difficulties agreeing on the positioning of the luminaires in the historical entrance area, for example. The old placement of the luminaires had to be fulfilled, and at the same time we had to make sure that the new lighting standards regarding lux levels and uniformity were achieved.”

The positioning of the luminaires meant that the light sources are always in the background, with ambient light instead emphasising the charm of the building. While working in a pre-existing, historical building might have caused some difficulties for the designers when it came to placing these fixtures, Dorff explained that, in this instance, it was relatively simple. “Since the building was completely reconstructed from the inside, we had all the possibilities we needed to integrate the best possible lighting solutions.”

The clean lighting concept continues throughout the building, in the conference rooms and workspaces, in order to create a pleasant and refreshing working atmosphere with a glare-free, yet powerful light. The modern lighting, consisting of a uniform grid of nearly invisible linear downlights from the likes of iGuzzini, Hoffmeister and Insta, enables a very dynamic use of the open-space meeting zones. These downlights are complemented by linear fixtures from LED Linear in the conference rooms and the ground floor foyer. Using intelligent light control, users are able to adjust the illumination levels to flexibly adapt to the room’s usage purposes, and the associated room layout. 

Dorff continued: “To obtain the flexibility of workspaces, we decided on a grid of fixed and almost invisible recessed luminaires in the meeting areas and fixed pendant luminaires in all office spaces. The arrangement of the luminaires always follows the rhythm of the façade and provides a homogenous picture from the outside.”

The discreet general lighting continues in the bistro, where it is supplemented by Prolicht’s Super Sign round surface-mounted fixtures, whose colours correspond to the interior finishes.

Thanks to the minimalist architecture and well-planned lighting design on the modern additions to the building, there is a spectacular view of the Cologne Cathedral on one side, and the Rhine with the Hohenzollern Bridge on the other. Glass office façades recede behind band-like aluminium cladding, opening up roof terraces, while the uppermost conference room offers 360-degree views over the rooftops of Cologne; this space meets its various usage requirements via the different lighting scenes developed by Dorff and the Licht Kunst Licht team.

Simple courtyards in the core of the building feature huge art screens, which are illuminated with homogenous, well-shielded lighting, courtesy of We-ef. The building’s façade meanwhile, is illuminated by spotlights, which are mounted to the existing street poles for road traffic. The entrance portal, which consists of historic columns, is highlighted by additional accent lighting, again courtesy of We-ef.

While the hidden lighting fixtures help to emphasise the impressive architecture and interior design of the building, it was also important that attention was paid to the plentiful natural light on offer. “All spaces with access to natural light have daylight sensors, which in most cases only makes use of the well-hidden artificial light necessary in the evening,” Dorff continued.

“The building appeals with its huge open spaces with lots of light during daytime. During night time, the artificial light takes over, and due to the well-hidden fixtures, it was possible to create a smooth and almost unrecognisable transition from day to night time.”

By creating this smooth transition, and harnessing the available natural light, Licht Kunst Licht have greatly contributed to creating a workspace that offers a harmonious relationship between daylight and artificial light – a relationship that is becoming increasingly important as workers are spending more time indoors, away from natural light. Much like the balance between historical and modern architecture, the balance between natural and artificial light helps to create a pleasant working environment for employees.

Pic: Johannes Roloff (Licht Kunst Licht)