Pioneering works, modern buildings, future? Architecture that was considered sensational and innovative in the Ruhr area in the 1950s and 1970s brought about rather different reactions in the decades to follow: “What’s that big bulky building supposed to be?” Large, square, and perfectly obtrusive, they certainly aren’t loved by everyone, and yet it has become impossible to imagine the area without them.

In 2018, the European year of cultural heritage, the “Big Beautiful Buildings” project focuses on all the churches, residential settlements, cultural sites and city buildings that protrude from the Ruhr area’s landscape in their solid build, making it possible to experience the boom years’ architecture from a new perspective as a shared heritage. After all, great buildings like these are built to last. They are still there. Following my own visit there, I am about to show you my favourites among the Big Beautiful Buildings and tell you what you can do there. Think big!

The Bochum Planetarium was planned and built from 1962 to 1964, based on ideas from architect Karl-Heinz Schwarze.

Visitors can look into the stars nearly every day under the aluminium dome with a diameter of 20 metres. In addition to scientific documentaries, the planetarium is also regularly hosting music shows spanning the range from classical music to Pink Floyd to accompany the starry skies.

The Zeiss Planetarium is located on a grassy hill south of Bochum’s city park. After many other public cultural buildings were erected around the park already, the idea of adding a planetarium was born in 1960.

While eleven new ZEISS-LED projectors were installed inside in 2020, the floors, many pieces of furniture, and the wooden panels are still the originals from 1964. Cutting-edge technology meets nostalgic charisma!

The Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen was built from 1954 to 1959, with Werner Ruhnau as the responsible architect. He planned a main building with about 1,000 seats and a stage building that comprises the main and backstage and two side stages.

This building was never meant to be strictly functional. Visual artists such as Yves Klein with his ultramarine sponge relief or Robert Adams with a distinctive white concrete relief on the forecourt contributed as well.

The theatre puts on musicals, operas, concert shows, puppet theatre, dance, and comedy, among other things. Shows take place in the Großes Haus, the Kleines Haus, and the foyer.

Planned and built from 1955 to 1958, the Heinz Hilpert Theater by Gerhard Graubner – a member of the Stuttgart School – is located near the inner city of Lünen.

The theatre has 765 seats. Its inauguration speech was held by actor and director Heinz Hilpert, who had several shows in Lünen and after whom the theatre was eventually named.

Today, the Heinz Hilpert Theater puts on concerts, plays, dance shows, and comedy.  Its stages offer entertainment for very diverse audiences, from the Simon & Garfunkel Revival Band, to Schwanensee, to Olaf Schubert.

The sacred building of the Heilig Kreuz Kirche in Bottrop was erected from 1955 to 1957. Its construction was supervised by Rudolf Schwarz, who considered himself a church construction theorist and tried to refer to the past with his ideas while using modern materials.

The idea was a building that opens towards the congregation, the forecourt, and eventually the entire world when viewed from the altar. The 300-square-metre glass wall with the church entrances shows a gigantic spiral that symbolises eternity.

The Heilig Kreuz Kirche is no longer a church in the strict sense of the word. It was deconsecrated in 2007. The Förderverein Kulturkirche Heilig Kreuz e.V. is now in charge of preservation and use of the building.

The residential complex of the “red” Finnstadt in Dorsten was planned and built from 1969 to 1975. Deemed a perfect example of modern residential construction at the time, it still invites to a relaxed stroll between its orange facades.

The settlement designed by Finnish architects Toivo Korhonen and Lauri Sorainen was originally planned in a construction kit system. The five-floor cross-shaped terraced buildings were to be made so as to be put together arbitrarily in a grid-like structure. The actual implementation then took place conventionally after all, however.

The residences in these complexes measure between 60 and 125 square metres. Built with large, private terraces, they are meant to serve as alternatives for typical single-family homes. The settlement can be viewed free of charge at any time. Pictures should only be taken without violating the privacy of the people living here, however.

Photos & Text: Sarah Bauer (frei getextet)