Egon Eiermann: Prinz Carl Hotel, Buchen, Oldenwald (1962-67)

Front View (Andrew Metcalf)

It was through this small project in Buchen, east of Heidelberg (south-western Germany), that the name of architect Egon Eiermann (1904-70) first came to my attention; although in retrospect I was aware of his (and Sep Ruf’s) Miesian – or so I thought at the time – West German Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair without knowing exactly who the author was.

Detail (Egon Eiermann 1904-1970: Bauten und Projekte - DVA 1984)

In the Prinz Carl project I was intrigued by a dialectical mix of simple form layered with an attached balcony/sun shade device. In a box plus add-ons strategy, which others[1] have called the “second layer,” Eiermann solved the tectonic puzzle of roof, glazed openings, gutter and brackets that constitute the second layer and provide subtle screening with masterly flair. Further, here it was: a 20th century building inserted beside an original 1610 hotel without architectural pandering or compromise.

Frontal oblique (Andrew Metcalf)

By the time I finally visited Buchen in 2006 the hotel had undertaken a conservation of the Eiermann interiors and proudly offered guests the option of an “Eiermann room” or a more typical room. The manager told me Eiermann’s father was from the area and that made the commission special for the architect.

Typical Plan (Egon Eiermann 1904-1970: Bauten und Projekte- DVA 1984)

Appropriately, Eiermann used the main entry and stair hall to provide an architectural pause point between new and old work. In the taller, new building there are five levels where the typical floor contains three single rooms facing onto Hochstadstrasse and two doubles at the back. All have the exterior/interior mediation afforded by the precast balconies (for viewing only) and the attached timber dowel and metal handrail and balustrade that is the second layer.

Rear View (Andrew Metcalf)

At the very top, again to mediate any possibility of an abrupt transition – this time between wall and roof – a corrugated asbestos-cement sheet cantilevers out like a whole-of-building shade or brim. Behind that – again as a transitional device – the roof gutter defines the very edge of the roof proper.

Side window (Andrew Metcalf)

Close up the windows, particularly those on the side elevation have other layers: a gridded timber door screen furnishes the hall with privacy. At a fine detail level there are even little metal decals attached to the asymmetrically and irregularly spaced lateral timber dowels on the balcony edge. These are a tectonically expressive means of preventing the dowels from sliding sideways out of their fixings.

Side View (Andrew Metcalf)

Eiermann’s little gem in Buchen was finished just three years before he died. Here is a master working at the insightful edge of his craft – you feel he approached an epiphany in this work that he had baulked at in other, more restrained, buildings. Eiermann was an architect who scattered many seeds, not all of which have germinated.

[1] Immo Boyken the architectural historian

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