Multihalle Mannheim is an impressive open system of halls built in 1975 for the BUGA-Bundes Gartenschau (federal garden show). The architects Frei Otto and Carlfried Mutschler set extraordinary technical and social ambitions. The shell remains, to date, the largest timber lattice in the world. However, their social ambition slowly disappeared after the BUGA, and after decades of indifference, the Multihalle’s technical stability started to weaken as a result.
The transformative design focuses on reconnecting the Multihalle with the neighbourhood. A central urban avenue will cross the halls and encourage a dynamic coexistence of activities, generating a chain reaction of unique events. The diversity of the existing halls – covered, uncovered; vast, intimate; unmistakable, hidden… – is enhanced to incorporate the fluctuating identities of contemporary societies. A happy cultural landscape for an open society in harmony with itself and with nature.
The Multihalle was designed for a specific event, the BUGA75. In order to make the halls active again, their features will be updated to promote multiple and unexpected uses. The initial interventions are strategically concentrated in a diagonal axis connecting the two main halls. This clear gesture maximises the interaction between different users and visitors.
The new programme is located under the original concrete platform. This strategy frees up the large spaces, maintaining the continuity and the cathedral-like effect of the shell. The Multihalle becomes a truly open system that provides a versatile framework to accommodate programmes in multiple ways. Adopting emptiness as a civic ideal enhances the qualities of the magnificent space.
The largest hall will be used as an event space with workshops and labs located in its perimeter. A modular system allows the user to adjust the space to multiple situations. The modules can be used in other parts of the Multihalle, and even taken out to the neighbourhood or the city. Their human scale will encourage participation: the people can activate and transform the halls themselves.
Their modest size of intervention, beyond a conscious use of resources, becomes a strategy to free large spaces for creative use and interpretation. Emptiness as a vital quality, always open for improvisations and diversity. The power of the halls resides in the capacity to absorb a perpetual state of revision since openness is a civic ideal, constantly renegotiable. A spatial and social vision organised into phases and thought for the long run.
The design provides the Multihalle with the essential spatial and social framework to wake up from its ‘sleeping beauty’ slumber and become an active part of the city. The phased interventions begin with opening up the Multihalle to the neighbourhood by improving the connection with the main streets.
During the next BUGA edition in 2023 the Multihalle will turn into a vibrant show, where the spaces along the central avenue will be working intensively. Meanwhile, small-scale interventions will be organised in cooperative workshops with the neighbours.
The synergy Multihalle-neighbourhood will increase after the BUGA, promoting a dynamic social space where citizens can endlessly stimulate their creativity and broaden their knowledge, as was ambitioned by Otto and Mutschler.