Electrical substation – Hild und K Architects – Germany

Fortress of quick and brutal power – Florian Heilmeyer  (DE) – Photography: Michael Heinrich

Indeed it looks like a little fortress, and maybe that even fits the content: after all, it is a new electrical substation to provide the entire inner-city district of Schwabing in Munich with electricity. Modern technology makes it possible to keep the new building much smaller than the previous facility, which stands adjacent on the same property and can now be torn down or largely refurbished for new apartments and offices in the middle of the city.

The design was done by Munich-based architects Hild und K, an office which was set up back in 1992, but never really became famous, despite their buildings of a remarkable, recognizable, and stubborn distinctiveness. The substation is once again an utterly distinctive building on this spot and for this purpose only. The massive, steel-reinforced concrete is left exposed with all traces of production and construction, to make clear that this building is a working tool that needs no insulation.

The main facade towards the street is defined by three large openings for transformers, which are each closed off with a reversible copper-sheet cladding. ‘Copper is an indispensable material in any power supply system’, explain the architects. That is why they have used the material for the doors, ventilation apertures, cladding, guard rails, and even downpipes. It will give a clear hint of the building’s purpose, even when its appearance will drastically change while patinating over time.

And what about the fortress-like appearance? Is this meant to hint at the high security standard that all the facilities for public infrastructure are required to meet today? No, it is just a silent witness of the slightly odd project history. The building was originally scheduled to be two to three floors higher, stacking some additional lettable office spaces on this piece of infrastructure. This would have made the building even more profitable for its client, the municipal energy supplier Stadtwerke München. However, due to too many unclear questions regarding security and building regulations, this plan was put on hold – but not entirely given up. Thus, in a mixture of an elegant gesture and a quick and brutal cropping of the original concept, the architects simply cut the building off at the allowed height. So this is actually no crenellation, but the bottom of the office windows of a potential third floor. Maybe they will be completed in the near future, and maybe not. For now the power substation has been officially put into operation.