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Max Dudler: a construction of strength, clarity and order

Already at the beginning of the works, here the Schwarze Cafe on the Schweizer Strasse in Frankfurt from 1986, Max Dudler has created a variety of atmospheres with a minimalist intervention. (Image: Waltraud Krase)

The international and Zurich-based architect is celebrating his 70th birthday today.

Hubertus Adam

He first made himself known abroad, but Max Dudler has also played a key role in Swiss construction for two decades. The manuscript of the St. Gallen architect, originally from St. Gallen, is unquestionably strict, often with perforated facades with rows of tall rectangular windows. He built them all over Europe, especially in German and Swiss cities, but also in Brussels, Antwerp and Moscow.

Max Dudler advises future colleagues not to target the large scale directly, but to limit themselves to a small project, but to implement it with all the coherence and precision of the details. This is the path taken by Dudler himself when he became independent in 1986 in Frankfurt-on-Main.

The Black Cafe Frankfurt, which he planned in collaboration with his brother and another architect, was a small space miracle, which sparked enthusiasm not only among visitors to the German museum of architecture located near. The old shop was divided into a cafe and a bar by a large black wall that concealed toilets and adjacent rooms. In fact, minimalist intervention, but managed to create different areas and atmospheres in a confined space.

The architect Max Dudler (Image: Thomas Smetana)

Max Dudler was born in Altenrhein in the canton of St. Gallen. His father owned a stonemason. But learning does not satisfy him, and for the career of rock musician, explains the enthusiastic fan of the Rolling Stones, he lacked the talent. He began to study architecture, but not like many of his German-Swiss peers at ETH Zurich, but first at the Frankfurt Städelschule, then at the Hochschule der Künste, in this which was then West Berlin. His local teacher Ludwig Leo, one of the radical architects still too little known of his time, recommended him after graduation an activity in the office of Oswald Mathias Ungers.

Early career in Germany

Dudler travels to Frankfurt am Main, where he oversees large-scale projects for Ungers on the exhibition grounds. Ungers' rationalism, his love of geometric shapes – in his case mostly squares – have become a formative experience for Dudler. They also found his own work without sharing the sometimes obsessive love of the geometry of the master.

A substation, with a brick and steel facade inserted ingeniously into the structure of a block boundary development, was Dudler's first appearance in Berlin. It was followed in the 1990s by a large number of major projects in the now reunited city. Facades with precise proportions and precise details, often made of natural stone, have become his trademark.

His most important project in the German capital, but it includes Jacob Center and Wilhelm Grimm of Humboldt University (2009). Located in the Mitte district, just off the S-Bahn line, this building brings together the main library of the university and twelve faculty libraries. The approximately 2.5 million volumes are largely accessible by hand, the heart of the building being the reading room on both sides of the terrace. So you do not just focus on the books, you also look at the neighbors and the crush in the lobby.

The result is a truly public place, not as informal as Hans Scharoun's famous reading landscape of the Staatsbibliothek am Kulturforum, but stricter, but not overly sublime. Libraries, one of the most important construction projects of recent years, despite all the euphoria of digitization, are not without reason become an important topic in the work of Max Dudler. The Münster Diocesan Library opened in 2005, the Essen Folkwang Library in 2012 and, in 2017, the brick building to the sculptural structure of the Heidenheim Municipal Library, in eastern Württemberg.

Order instead of chaos

Dudler sought the clear form and even the grand gesture, which can sometimes reach the monumental. The best example is the Hagenholzstrasse tower in Zurich Oerlikon, built between 1999 and 2013 in two phases. With him, whose main office is in Berlin in a house of Max Taut, he returned to Switzerland, so to speak. Without a doubt, with its dark facade skin of anthracite color and its dense and offbeat mass, the building complex is polarized. But in the suburbs of Zurich, where the urban space is frayed, Dudler was able to launch a strong and powerful signal that, in its formal abstract, defies the wishes of access and privatization of individual investors.

To create order, where chaos reigned, one could describe the concept of Dudler. Its architecture is based on durability and aesthetic sustainability: tenants change, but buildings remain. And they act as a city gate, so to speak, marking the beginning of Zurich before Oerlikon turns into a high-rise district. The architect himself likes to look overall with the public space at the center surrounded by pillared arches with the Rockefeller Center in New York.

In fact, a public place accessible to all has emerged, even if outside of office hours, life does not vibrate here. Sihlpost has also restored the problem posed by Dudler's proposal in the large project Europaallee College of Education. Sihlpost: Investors wishing to use a pedestal as a shopping center, the stairs lead to a podium with the buildings of the university. The actual networking with the urban space is also different.

Europe as a reference ground

Dudler, who has been operating successfully in Switzerland for almost two decades, sees himself as a European: he does not want to build off the continent with cultural traditions that shape his personality, he said. Oscillating between purism and expressiveness, her buildings often seem more abstract, even more sculptural, than many of her colleagues; No wonder, perhaps, that Dudler does not teach in a technical university, but for many years at the Düsseldorf Art Academy.

He can also conceive in a very different way of repetitive grids and perforated facades, shows a number of visitor centers in the context of historical buildings. Notably by natural stone as a building material, Dudler seeks dialogue between the old and the new, whether at Heidelberg Castle or Hambach Castle. The visitor centers are archaic and contemporary in their materiality, the clarity and precision of the design make the architect safe from the retro creeping trend of the present. Today, Max Dudler is 70 years old.

Stadtbibliothek Heidenheim, 2017. (Image: Stefan Müller)

Together Hagenholzstrasse, part 1 2004 / part 2 2013. (Image: Stefan Müller)