Conductor of the project: Erich Offermann in conversation
Erich Offermann, you are the overall manager of the project "Repair and Conversion of the Zurich Convention Center/Tonhalle Zurich". What exactly do you do in this function?
I see myself as a kind of conductor of the project. My job is to bring together the requirements of all the parties involved in the overall renovation of the Zurich Convention Center and the Tonhalle Zurich. I coordinate the planning and realisation, including costs and deadlines, and I am responsible for the project towards the client.
That sounds demanding - especially for such a large project. Do you enjoy it?
Often - but sometimes you also ask yourself why you are doing this to yourself. From the very beginning, we have to consider all the users in the implementation of the architectural design: from the orchestra to the facility management, from the audience to the requirements of a large kitchen. And then there is the unconventional old building structure, which, despite all the care taken, still causes many surprises today. The Zurich Convention Center was built in stages: in 1895, fire protection was not yet understood in the same way as it is today; in 1939, construction was extremely sparing in the course of the pre-war period. Such structural conditions, together with today's safety regulations and requirements for earthquake retrofitting, lead to great technical complexity.
How, for example?
I think one of the great opportunities is that the architectural design retains the aura and charm of the Zurich Convention Center. Security and event technology aspects will be realised in an ultra-modern way, but the beauty and elegance of the building will remain in the foreground. Images of the Fin de Siècle combined with those of the Landi 1939 - together with today's architectural language - will surround our future guests more succinctly than before. Together with the magnificent Tonhalle, they will accompany today's Zurich Convention Center on its way to an eventful future.
What is currently going on at the construction site?
Well, we are in the final phase. The final commissioning of all building services such as heating, ventilation, lighting is now taking place. The natural stone covering on the beautiful roof terrace was finished just in time before the snow. The large outdoor staircase to the lake has received its steps. At the moment, the new parquet floor with the historic pattern is being installed in the Kongresssaal, the old parquet floors are being sanded and we are installing the seating in the large Tonhalle. For the voicing of the new, imposing organ, we absolutely need the temperature in the Grosse Tonhalle, which will also prevail during the concerts. That is still challenging. Winter is a challenging season to build and finish.
What are you particularly looking forward to when the Zurich Convention Center opens in summer 2021?
Personally, I am clearly looking forward to the Tonhalle Orchestra playing in the new «old» hall for the first time. I was already involved in the opening of the KKL; I will never forget that: It brought tears to my eyes when the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra played its instruments for the first time in the large hall - still without an audience - it was Bruckner's 8th Symphony. I think it will be no different here. The new chief conductor Paavo Järvi has already described the concert hall to the musicians of the Tonhalle Orchestra as a large instrument of its own, which is to be made to sound together. A cultural building lives from its operation and the people who fill it.
«The Zurich Convention Center is simply a stroke of luck for Zurich.»
Can you already imagine that today?
Absolutely. I worked for many years in the theatre as a set and costume designer before studying at ETH. The love of spatial dramaturgy is also a great advantage in architecture, whether you work in the function of the designer - or just as now - as the overall director. In the Zurich Convention Center there are some ingenious details that will make unique experiences possible: The back wall of the large Kongresssaal, for example, can be lowered. This allows a room continuum to be created, as was en vogue in architectural thinking around 1939 and earlier. Today, this creates a flexibly usable and intelligent venue. The Zurich Convention Center with its history and character is simply a stroke of luck for Zurich.
Name: Erich Offermann
Function: overall management of the project «renovation and conversion of the Zurich Convention Center/Tonhalle Zurich»
Expertise: generalist architect with affinity for technology, music, stage and art.
Likes about his work: intellectual challenges, so that together amazing buildings can be accomplished.