KAT18 art centre is located in a converted 19C brewery in Süd Köln, which had undergone a first conversion in 1983 of which the exposed concrete is also heritage protected. A slope and a ramp enable level access to the ground floor gallery and coffee shop and the lift. Signage has been co-produced with KAT18 artists with a learning disability. Designed on a shoestring budget and with careful detailing, KAT18 enriches the heritage spaces with an atmosphere that is at once stimulating and restful. The coffee shop employs people with a learning disability and has become a popular and inclusive place.
Principal access interventions :
- level entry to the coffee shop and the kitchen from a cobbled courtyard via a gentle slope
- a metal ramp inside the ground floor studio area provides access to and from the back courtyard
- signage for the toilets co-designed by KAT18 artists
- acoustic insulation of a mezzanine incorporating KAT18 artist’s work
- Süd Köln, Cologne, Germany
The converted 19th brewery houses studios for artists with a learning disability, a gallery and coffee shop/restaurant; meeting and administrative spaces. Close to vibrant Chlowdig Platz, the KAT18 coffee shop has become a popular venue for locals.
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Written by Marcus Weisen.
Heritage significance and attractiveness
The 19th century brewery and exposed concrete of the 1983 conversion are protected heritage to which heritage preservation regulations of the German Land Nordrhein Westfalen apply.
The building is surrounded on two sides by the original cobbled yard. At the back, the brick wall and its wide original windows are preserved. This yard has escaped relentless modernisation, it is as if time had stopped there. The preservation of the spatial qualities inside required a high quality design for the building’s contemporary uses that would enrich the overall atmosphere.
Only 20% of Cologne survived intensive WW2 bombing. The site brings home the necessity for sustainable cities to preserve and keep using local heritage.
- no level access
- bad acoustics on the mezzanine meeting spaces overlooking the studio space
The new access features were not technically challenging to put in place. However, they are creative responses that resonate with the artistic identity of the place. They are part of the design intention to create an alive, welcoming and inclusive place that nurtures creativity and social inclusion. KAT18 artists were involved in the process.
Level entry to the coffee shop and the kitchen
The removal of 1 step from the cobbled courtyard to provide level access to the exhibition space and coffee shop. The office for disabled people of the city of Cologne provided guidance for balancing access and heritage preservation. Cobbles were up-turned, split in two and the flat side used for the new gentle slope.
Direct access from the studio to the courtyard
A simple ramp in wood was installed at the back of the studio space to provide direct access to and from the cobbled back yard (avoiding the need to cross the coffee shop).
The ramp is flanked left and right by a thick wall-like structure in humble chipboard painted white, which hints at monumentality. It turns the ramp into a passageway with a strong presence. The ordinary somewhat clunky metal handrails look elegant in this design. The ramp dialogues with the staircase on the opposite side. The chipboard wall gives identity to the studio space.
The lift was already installed in 1983 by previous occupants. An additional lift to the second floor studios and the artist in residence studio on the third floor could not be installed, due to fire protection regulation. An alternative rescue concept with a rescue chute was not approved either, as Nordrhein Westfalen regulations demand self rescue for disabled people in wheelchairs.
Signage for the toilets looks unconventional and refreshing and signals the artistic identity of the place. The upper part was designed by KAT18 artists, the lower part by graphic designer Maya Hässig.
There is a shop display of art work at the beginning of the studio space. This is reached from the exhibition and coffee shop space via a short corridor. Play-fully signage consisting of strips of orange-red paper stuck on the wall invite a visit.
An overall concept for acoustic design was developed in collaboration with structural engineering expertise from Energiebüro vom Stein. Resonant sound from the art studio space rises to the meeting space in the mezzanine. The metal grid fence on the edge of the mezzanine makes some people feel unsafe. Heritage preservation regulations exclude the construction of an insulating wall, as it would alter the original open space.
The solution came in the form of an artwork. Designed by KAT18 artist Bärbel Lange and consisting of 12 pieces of felt 1,5 m x 0.8 meters big folded over the fence in between each vertical metal pole holding the parapet. The work represents snake and crocodile acting as figures protecting the artists. This reversible solution successfully acts as a sound buffer. It adds warmth to a plain space and intimacy to the meeting space. The handrail was left clear, preserving the feel of inter-connecting spaces.
Interchangeable sound absorbing panels created by KAT18 artists as part of the building project further improve the acoustics and comfort of the meeting space.
KAT18 conjures up the feeling of an inclusive Gesamtkunstwerk. It took a number of ingredients to make this low budget projet an unusual success : a resilient and living vision of an inclusive society, a great deal of art and social sector know-how, a stubborn commitment to high standards at every level and a talented architect with empathy for the project and its people. A capacity to motivate.
KAT18 is teeming with life, supported also by the flexible use and ever changing look of the exhibition and coffeeshop space and mobile walls on wheels in the studio space.
The overall design concept and extremely careful detailing make KAT18 a life enhancing welcoming, restful and stimulating place which nurtures creativity and enriches the atmosphere of the heritage building. Care for quality expresses in small details, such as beautifully designed cards and menus and the involvement of artists in logo design.
The physical access features are seamlessly integrated into the whole.
Players and processes
- Client : KAT 18
- Architect : Claudia Hoffmann Austellungsarchitektur (exhibition design)
- Sponsors : numerous companies and supporters who donated time and fittings
KAT18 took its origins in a ceramic workshop for people with a learning disability created in 1993, which grew into the creative workshop “ALLERHAND” (translatable as Everyone’s Hands and All Sorts of Things). Kunsthaus KAT18 opened in 2014 as an art production centre. It is part-funded by employment measures for people with a disability. 24 artists use the studio spaces regularly and 9 people with a learning disability work part-time in the coffee shop/restaurant.
Ideas for a dedicated studio space for artists with a learning disability evolved organically over many years. Today, KAT18 stages exhibitions of the community of artists using the studios and external artists, rents out space for performances, sells art work, runs a coffee shop, develops art projects that raise questions about urban development and networks internationally. KAT18 artists have exhibited e.g. at Kolumba Museum, Cologne, Bonn Art Museum and the Paul Klee Zentrum in Bern, Switzerland. They worked alongside non-disabled artists to present their views on inclusive town planning for Süd Köln.
There is a feel of adventure in the conversion of the brewery, into which KAT18 took its management knowledge and implicit culture evolved over the years, guided by an unflinching commitment to high social and aesthetic standards, hospitality, sociability and inclusion. Some of the alluring access features are the result of creative interactions between the management, the architect, the artists and sub-contractors.
Funding for the conversion and fittings was very limited. Two well matched sofas were bought for €50 on eBay for the coffee shop. Art for sale is displayed on two repainted stacked-up IKEA shelves fully integrated into the overall design concept. The project succeeded with the support of many individuals and companies. Motivated by the vision of KAT18, they willingly donated time and fittings. Lamps matching the interior spaces were received from a Cologne based provider of modern light solutions at a huge discount.