Reclaiming an uncomfortable monument

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The Saaleck Workshops near Naumburg in Germany holds a history that must not be ignored nor forgotten. Built by the German architect, anti-Semite and racial ideologist Paul Schultze-Naumburg at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and used by the Nazi elite as a think tank of totalitarian and racists thoughts, it is considered an 'uncomfortable monument'. Now the site will be transformed  into a free-thinking international design academy where history will be allowed to coexist with future ideals of diversity, democracy and openness. 

The grave and complex past of the Saaleck Workshops should not fade from our collective memory. Similarly, we need to recognize that it cannot define nor paralyze the ideas and creativity of future generations. To approach this challenge, Dorte Mandrup have created a masterplan that allows history to be visible while superimposing new layers on the existing, representing contemporary ideals of diversity and free thinking  – a transformation of the Saaleck Workshops and the surrounding landscape by restoring, leaving and adding.

"It is courageous of the Marzona Foundation and dieDAS – Design Akademie Saaleck to reclaim and bring new values and content into the frames of the Saaleck Workshops – this otherwise very uncomfortable monument. Working on the project, it has been very interesting to discuss what happened in the years around 1904 in comparison to the political turbulence and design ideals of today. In this light, I think it is very important to be aware of these seminal moments in our history and to try to act accordingly. To be part of transforming the content of the Saaleck Workshops into a place that will be pointing towards an open and diverse democratic future, is by all means very compelling," says Dorte Mandrup.

Allowing history to coexist with future ideals

By adding new layers to the existing, history will be able coexist with current and future functions, movements and ideals. It is a minimal yet forceful intervention. The Saaleck Workshops were not a static place. The place has been transformed many times since 1904. The juxtaposing of color and materiality will underline the many historic layers and allow the buildings to be understood from many different perspective – not only the dark chapters leading up to and unfolding during the Nazi regime.

Some places will be left untouched, representing the history from 1904 until today. Bright, strong colors will mark the few places where significant changes are made. More subtle colors will relate to the shared northern European design ideals at the time when the house was built. Representing the common starting point that soon divided into a parallel history of architecture in Europe, one moving forward at enormous speed, while others – like the Saaleck Workshops – moved backwards in ideology and time.

Like the buildings, the garden has gone through changes over time. Today the reminiscence of a North-South axis creates a controlled movement through the gardens. A new layer of meandering paths will inspire visitors to venture on alternative routes through the garden, passing wildflowers, bushes and fruit trees along the way. From a new evening terrasse they can take a moment to enjoy the amazing view over the The River Saale. As a new intervention in the garden, a light, organic Infinity Bridge will connect three different levels in the garden to the Architects House in the far East corner.

An open glass facade will transform the former chicken coop into a documentation centre which will explore the life of Paul Schultze-Naumburg and critically address his ideas and racist ideology

A space for free developement and exchange

In 2018 the Saaleck Workshops was bought by the Marzona Stiftung Neue Saalecker Werkstätten with a generous donation of Patron Egidio Marzona. After the restoration and transformation, a new forward thinking international design academy will reclaim the site and become a free space for development and ideas. 

“dieDAS – Design Akademie Saaleck was founded to provide designers and creative minds from all over the world with opportunities for development and exchange in an open community. The new and inspiring atmosphere created by Dorte Mandrups’ delicate design approach and strategic interventions will definitely promote successful work on innovative and socially relevant processes and visions for our collective future while keeping the specific uncomfortable history of the Saaleck Workshops in mind,” says Arne Cornelius Wasmuth, Founding Director of dieDAS – Design Akademie Saaleck.

The Marzona Foundation and dieDAS will transform the former Saaleck Workshops to reflect contemporary culture and facilitate a productive and distinct exchange – between the fellows, partner institutions, and companies, as well as a worldwide network of designers, craftspeople, and architects. It will be a place for big thoughts and visions. Diverse, interdisciplinary, open. 

The transformation will happen in stages with the last stage expected to finish in 2027.

Illustrations by Dorte Mandrup