Dornbusch Church - Frankfurt am Main - Germany
The absence of the dismantled nave remains visible and perceptible. The old elements left traces on the ground – and were cast into the sculpture of the new western wall.
When the Dornbusch Church was built by the architectural division of the Evangelical Regional Association (in 1962), the municipality had twelve thousand members. Its bell tower quickly became a symbol for the entire Dornbusch community located in the north of Frankfurt.
Forty years later, however, the hall church was greatly in need of repair and the congregation had dwindled to 3500 members. The church was suddenly too big.
Meixner Schlüter Wendt Architects were awarded the contract to demolish the building and erect a new small chapel. Following intensive discussions with the community, however, the architects developed an alternative solution that also maintained the bell tower as a landmark. The demolition became a partial shrinkage, allowing at least some of the old church to continue to live on. The nave was reduced by more than half so that instead of 550, there are now 180 seats.
The old walls were merely given a fresh coat of paint, while an impressive wall-filling stained-glass window was left intact.
Roof and floor were insulated, and new wooden flooring and furniture were added with possibilities for flexible use in mind. The south side of the original nave was closed off with a new wall, which had to be thick enough to provide the needed stability.
The architects came up with the idea to install a relief, which would echo the lines of the rest of the building and thus preserve its memory, as in a mural. Elements such as the altar and the choir loft were inscribed into the new wall like press molds, giving the surface a sculptural feel. “The impression of a form is a reference to seemingly absent - and in this context, perhaps also transcendent- content”, write the architects. “The identity of the place is carried on. Ultimately, the project is a recycling of the material and non-material aspects of the building”. The partial demolition caused a wide gap to be left between the new church wall sculpture and the bell tower. On what was once sacred soil, the church’s original layout was marked, like on a sports field. This somewhat playful gesture lifts the heaviness from the church’s still noticeable absence.