Holy order
Wallpaper|November 2020
David Chipperfield Architects turns a 17th-century German convent into a 21st-century office complex

Successful architecture serves its users as well as its environment. It responds to its physical, social and historical context. It gives back more than it takes. David Chipperfield Architects is not only great at getting the aesthetics right, but also a master at responding to existing context, then harmonising and enhancing. Its recently completed Jacoby Studios office building, in the small German city of Paderborn, is a perfect example.

Paderborn, in North Rhine-Westphalia, is, as the name implies, where the river Pader is ‘born’ from some 200 springs across the city centre, threading together in interconnecting streams. It was founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century but, like many European cities, suffered damage during the Second World War – 85 per cent of it was destroyed. Nevertheless, the central urban plan from the Middle Ages is still very much intact. There are parts of the old city wall, large Catholic churches and smaller buildings in a typical 1950s West German style – a shopping arcade, large roads, some pedestrianised areas and the odd brutalist structure. In short, it is a fairly typical German city.

Similarly, the clients for this project are, at first sight, a family firm fairly typical of the Mittelstand, the medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of the German economy. Founded in the 1970s by Franz Jacoby, and now run by his daughters Ellen and Yvonne, the firm is Germany’s biggest retailer for DIY arts and crafts materials and has around 1,000 employees, 85 per cent of whom are women. For the site of their new company HQ, the Jacobys had acquired a plot of land near Paderborn’s old city centre. On it stood a disused 1950s hospital building, built on the remains of a baroque convent for the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent de Paul.

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