Compact or spread out – What will the University look like?

In June 1968, the architectural competition for Bielefeld University is announced. Its basis is the idea of a University committed to educational reform. This presents the architects with unique challenges to formally implement this. On 9 May 1969, the jury awards the first prize to the compact design proposed by the Berliner Architektengemeinschaft, an architectural collective. The decentralised design put forward by the Düsseldorf architects, Bender & Co, is the runner up.

  • Viewing of the winning model of the architectural competition, amongst others, by Prof. Dr. Helmut Schelsky (3rd from the left), Prof. Dr. Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker (4th from left) and NRW State Minister of Construction, Dr. Ing. Hermann Kohlhase (3rd from the right).

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00287
  • Photo of the winning model by the Berlin architectural collective centred around Klaus Köpke (1969). On the right, the Voltmannshof, which was to be preserved as a meeting centre according to the architects’ plans, and above that, the design for the building for the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, which was not used.

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01751
  • Photo of the revised and final model after the start of construction (1972). At the top left you can see the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), including the Voltmannshof and H buildings, as well as the Behavioural Research Building on the upper right.

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00447

  • Aerial photograph of the nearly completed main university building (1975).

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01550

The jury praised the winning design because of its spatial concentration and the close connection between the facilities, which fulfilled the structural recommendations of the competition. The Düsseldorf design lost by a small margin. While it had the character of a park university campus, the jury found that it was sufficiently centralised and met the functional requirements for communication and cooperation.

Heated debate, a close result

The decision to award first prize to the architects Klaus Köpke, Wolf Siepmann, Helmut Herzog and Katte Töpper was not without controversy. After five hours of deliberation, a vote was forced, in which Köpke’s design narrowly won. Jürgen Hotzan, councillor of the Bielefeld city planning department, was opposed to the design. He saw it as a rehash of Bochum University, which had been completed a few years earlier as the first large public university built after World War II in Germany.

The architectural collective defended its design by pointing to the interdisciplinarity that the University’s founders desired and which required the shortest possible routes between facilities. It highlighted the central hall as a “marketplace”. After revising the winning design, the University voted unanimously in its favour, and it was finally built in 1976.

Klaus Köpke, an architect from the Berlin architecture collective, on winning the competition. Interview from 09.05.2018.

Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FS 230