North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest urban area, includes well known cities like Düsseldorf, Cologne and Essen. But this exciting region is also home to smaller yet beautiful locations such as Aachen, Freudenberg and Soest – amongst many others.
The rich built environment of North Rhine-Westphalia is the consequence of having multiple cultures, traditions and politics coexisting together throughout time. Historically, this area has always been wealthy – the largest economy among the German states – and that has had an impact in what was built. Nowadays, one can enjoy a wide range of buildings within its many cities. Old and new. Religious and secular. Private and public. Though the area is dense and its architecture superb, I’ve curated this list focusing on contemporary architecture – knowing that I left out many important buildings. That’s why I encourage you to check the full Free Architecture Guide of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Special thanks to Germany Tourismus and my friend Philipp Heer (the amazing photographer behind most of these images) who organised a short trip to this delightful area of Germany, where I could discover – for the first time – the Ruhr’s area many charms and architectural gems.
Let me know in the comments… which is your favourite place on the list?
1. Neuer Zollhof
One of the surprising aspects of this region is the number of buildings by Frank Gehry that we can find. These European examples, many in Germany, later became the signature form of the architect. This complex consists of three towers, and each is significant for what came later in the architect’s career – steel, brick and clad. The location, previously occupied by warehouses, is now the place to be and one can argue that the effect of these towers significantly contributed to the regeneration of the area. All three towers (intended as office space) consist of a concrete core, but the finish is different for each building. By using the same windows though, the buildings still have a connection with each other. Read more here.
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: Neuer Zollhof 2-6, 40221 Düsseldorf (Google)
2. The Wellem
The imposing structure, built in 1913, was originally a courthouse and home to significant historical events of the 20th century like the Treblinka Trials. The building shows the monumental construction program of a neo-baroque palace of justice of the Wilhelminism. Four storeys and the hipped roof, on which an oval roof turret is arranged in the middle, rise above a basement. The main facade on Mühlenstrasse shows the symmetrical order of a baroque palace with a central projectile and two side projections. In 2010, the buildings were given up in their original use due to their poor suitability for modern court operations. In 2017 it was transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. Read more here.
Architect: Felix Dechant
Location: Mühlenstraße 34, 40213 Düsseldorf (Google)
3. Hornet (Origami) mural
Although technically not a building, this mural (and the K20 Kunstsammlung where it stand) deserve a shoutout. The artist dedicated herself to animal motifs and a thousand-year-old tradition in her Origami series. Origami art creates three-dimensional figures out of two-dimensional objects by use of a folding technique. Her artwork titled Beetle takes the physical complexity of the insect and transforms it into an abstract pattern. This artwork is a continuation of a significant historical pattern but with Morris’ new interpretation. Morris is also known for her murals, which are artworks created outside on large walls, typically in public spaces. For the Düsseldorf K20 Art Collection of 2010, Morris took the Hornet motif from her Origami series, and reapplied it in the outstanding format of 6.80 meters x 27 meters. The entire work was created using a multitude of hand-painted ceramic tiles. Read more here.
Artist: Sarah Morris
Location: K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westflen, Grabbepl. 5, 40213 Düsseldorf (Google)
4. Kö-Bogen I
Kö-Bogen, or the ‘King’s Bow’, is a large-scale office and retail complex whose sinuous form hugs the point where the Königsallee Boulevard, Düsseldorf’s primary thoroughfare, converges with the newly created Hofgarten promenade. The complex sits on two plots, comprised of two structures – one to the east, the other to the west – separated on the ground by a central pedestrian passageway and joined above by a two-story bridge. The façade is intricately patterned: horizontal from some vantage points, vertical from others, and conceived so that the arrangement of stone and glass panels and aluminum louvers express unity. Plantings are integrated into cuts on the facade that provide additional shading and connection to the landscaped areas close to the complex. Read more here.
Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Location: Königsallee 2, 40212 Düsseldorf (Google)
5. Kö-Bogen II
Over 30,000 plants and eight kilometers of hornbeam hedges – Europe’s largest green façade. The façade is an essential element of the Kö-Bogen II commercial and office building. The ensemble marks the conclusion of an urban renewal project in the heart of Düsseldorf. It also represents a paradigm shift: from an urban perspective, it signals a departure from the automotive era and a turn towards people-oriented planning. With Europe’s largest green facade, it offers an urban response to climate change and creating a new green heart in Düsseldorf’s inner city. Kö-Bogen’s sloping green façades face one another in a composition inspired by Land Art. The new building complex oscillates in a deliberate indeterminacy between city and park. The two structures form a dynamic entrance to Gustaf-Gründgens-Platz, which opens up the view to icons of post-war modernism – the clear austerity of the Dreischeibenhaus (1960) and the buoyant lightness of the Schauspielhaus (1970). Read more here.
Architect: Büro Ingenhoven
Location: Königsallee 2, 40212 Düsseldorf (Google)
6. Pempelforter Straße Station
At the Pempelforter Strasse station Heike Klussmann works with the 3D effects of the space’s specific geometries. She measured the station and transposed the measurements onto a 3D model. She took the directions of movement from each entrance, extended them into the station and placed four white bands, each with the same measurements as the entrances, as an inverted sculpture over the floor, walls and ceiling. The directions of the edges of the space were recorded so that they could break and process the geometry of the room. The band structure has an independent existence after breaking with the geometry of the space and as an inverted sculpture cuts across the perimeters of the station’s spaces. The resulting three-dimensional effect of this game with the dimensions of surfaces and spaces is surprising. It seems that the actual boundaries of the subway station have dissolved. Read more here.
Architect: Heike Klussmann
Location: 40211 Düsseldorf (Google)
7. FOM Hochschule Hochschulzentrum Düsseldorf
© David Franck
The non-profit FOM University is Germany’s largest private university. With over 24 study centers in Germany and abroad, FOM university enrolls more than 21,000 working students, trainees, and apprentices. The new building of the FOM University Düsseldorf provides the necessary space for the ever-increasing numbers of students. The building can accommodate around 1,500 students and reflects on the infrastructural context of railway tracks, bridges, ramps and pedestrian connections in the building design. The outer staircases and fire escape balconies allow for the compact circulation areas inside the building. Some curved balconies are connected to outdoor stairs, making the escape route for the upper floors more efficient. The inside of the building opens up to a sculptural staircase, leading the generous foyer upwards to connect all four auditorium levels. Read more here.
Architect: J. Mayer H. und Partner
Location: Toulouser Allee 53, 40476 Düsseldorf (Google)
8. Kolumba Museum
Situated in Cologne, Germany, a city that was almost completely destroyed in World War II, the museum houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years. Zumthor’s design delicately rises from the ruins of a late-Gothic church, respecting the site’s history and preserving its essence. Zumthor, consistently mindful of the use of the materials, and specifically their construction details, has used grey brick to unite the destroyed fragments of the site. These fragments include the remaining pieces of the Gothic church, stone ruins from the Roman and medieval periods, and German architect Gottfried Böhm’s 1950 chapel for the ‘Madonna of the Ruins’. Articulated with perforations, the brick work allows diffused light to fill specific spaces of the museum. Read more here.
Architect: Peter Zumthor
Location: Kolumbastraße 4, 50667 Köln (Google)
9. Kath. Kirche Christi Auferstehung
Christi Auferstehung is a Catholic church in the district of Lindenthal in Cologne. It was built between 1968-1970 by architect Gottfried Böhm and later consecrated in 1971. It is regarded as a typical example of sculptural buildings by the architect and there are similarities in the design with The Pilgrimage Church which was designed at the same time (see point 12 of this list). This hall church has an irregular polygonal plan with pyramiding building structures made of brick and concrete. Several building sections grow gradually in the air and end off in sloping roof surfaces. Inside, there is a cave-like atmosphere. The interlocking building masses create separate spaces for each liturgical task, for example a side chapel to the left of the main altar, and an intimate oratory for private prayers on the right hand side. The dominating effect, however, comes from the ceiling construction: heavy concrete columns carry the vault with its concrete masses piling up to the maximum height above the altar. Read more here.
Architect: Gottfried Böhm
Location: Brucknerstraße, 50931 Köln (Google)
10. Kirche Johannes XXIII.
The then university pastor Wilhelm Nyssen had been in conversation for a long time – and probably also befriended – with the sculptor Josef Rikus, who was so decisive for the design of the church building. This should be designed from the interior, the community and the liturgy and not as a ‘monument that can only be seen from the outside’. The cave and the tree, the root of Jesse, which can be seen as a ‘metaphor of the earthly’ were chosen as architectural symbols for the interior space. The architecture emerges from the latter and only be encased by thin side walls made of glass or concrete palisades. Josef Rikus also played an important part in the design as part of the overall concept. Altar, ambo, tabernacle and the seats reserved for the liturgy come from him. These pieces of equipment, made from heavy oak blocks, correspond to the central architectural motif – the tree – thanks to their natural material. Read more here.
Architect: Heinz Buchmann and sculptor Josef Rikus
Location: Berrenrather Str. 127, 50937 Köln (Google)
11. Cologne Oval Offices
Two colourful six-storey office blocks built around internal courtyards alongside the River Rhine. The pair of free-form volumes responds to the landscape qualities of the site – part of the Rhine’s former flood meadows, which are becoming increasingly developed. Further, the new buildings acknowledge the sculptural characteristics of the neighbouring twelve-storey 1960s high-rise, while their vivid polychromy reinforces the organic character of the original situation. Both buildings are structured around three cores, each of which offer an attractive entrance area. Full-height openable casements and variably printed solar screening panels allow both the lighting level and the view out at each workplace to be controlled individually by the user. Read more here.
Architect: Sauerbruch Hutton Architects
Location: Gustav-Heinemann-Ufer 72, 50968 Köln (Google)
12. Nevigeser Wallfahrtsdom
The Church of the Pilgrimage, also known as Neviges Mariendom, is a colossal concrete form that rises above the rooftops of the medieval German town. It announces the destination of a historical pilgrimage that once attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Designed in 1963 and consecrated in 1968, the structure was one of dozens of churches conceived by the German Pritzker Prize winner, but is widely considered to be his greatest work and has been associated with various artistic movements. Böhm was one of 17 architects invited to design an all-new church for the hillside site where, in the 17th century, a friar had delivered a rendering of the Virgin Mary to a small chapel. Böhm chose to defy the competition guideline to put the church’s entrance near the train station, instead opting to create a procession across the site. He proposed a building on the site’s highest peak – the only design that didn’t involve flattening the landscape – so that pilgrims would need to climb up to it. Read more here.
Architect: Gottfried Böhm
Location: Elberfelder Str. 12, 42553 Velbert (Google)
13. Kirche St. Suitbert
The St. Suitbert Church is a Roman Catholic church built from 1963 to 1966. It’s considered the most modern church building in Essen. The patron saint of the church is Saint Suitbert, an Anglo-Saxon missionary who lived and worked in the 7th and 8th centuries and missionary in the Brukterer area between the middle Ems and the upper Lippe. In 1961 the decision to build the new church was made and the architect Josef Lehmbrock and the structural engineer Stefan Polónyi were commissioned with the planning. A kindergarten was added in 1973. Extensive renovation was necessary 25 years after the church was built and the exposed concrete outer walls were given insulation protection and painted white. Read more here.
Architect: Josef Lembrock and Stefan Polonyi
Location: Klapperstraße 70A, 45277 Essen (Google)
14. SANAA Building
The Zollverein Design School is located between a historical coal mining factory and a sprawling suburb. The building is a 35 meter cube, which, at the scale of the large neighboring factory buildings, stands in strong contrast to the finer suburban texture. Its intense presence announces the former factory grounds. Given traditional standards, the building volume might be perceived as too large for its program, an approach which not only has an urban impact, but is also a response to the building’s program. This undivided production floor is an unusually lofty and fully flexible space, which is enclosed only by external structural walls. These walls, punctured by numerous apertures, filter the light and view from the surrounding factory landscape, softening the transition between exterior and interior. Read more here.
Location: Gelsenkirchener Str. 209, 45309 Essen (Google)
15. Ruhr Museum
The Ruhr Museum, along with the Visitor Center is located inside the old washing plant of Zeche Zollverein. The office led by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas was commissioned in 2002 to design the Master Plan of what had once been the Zollverein mine, out of service since 1986 and a World Heritage Site in 2001. People would access to the inside through an escalator going up to 24 meters, the movement from top to bottom has been kept, similar to the flow of the original factory production, reaching a distribution space where the information point, ticketing, cafe, shop and wardrobe are located. Read more here.
Location: Gelsenkirchener Str. 181, 45309 Essen (Google)
16. Museum Küppersmühle
A grain mill was erected in 1860 on the site of the present Museum Küppersmühle by industrialist Wilhelm Vedder, one of the founding fathers of Duisburg’s Inner Harbour. In 1900 the first mill using the most up-to-date technology went into operation in the Inner Harbour, which became known as the ‘bread basket of the Ruhr district’, and in 1908 the earlier buildings were replaced by the three-part structure now housing the museum. The Museum Küppersmühle (MKM), a project by Herzog & de Meuron dating from 1999, was the first milestone in the transformation of the Inner Harbour into an attractive focus of urban life. Since 1999 the Küppersmühle has housed an art museum that contains one of the finest collections of German art from the 1950s to the present. Read more here.
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Philosophenweg 55, 47051 Duisburg (Google)
17. Tiger & Turtle
Tiger and Turtle – Magic Mountain is an art installation and landmark in Angerpark. It resembles a roller coaster, but it is a walkway with stairs. Its vertical loop continues the walkway and stairs, but it is unwalkable and is blocked off. German artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth created ‘Tiger & Turtle-Magic Mountain’ out of zinc and steel left over from local mining operations, and it’s main purpose is to exist as an unusual venue to view the gorgeous German countryside around it. While a little disappointing that physics don’t allow for passage around the loop, you can still work off that amusement park lunch at the speed of a turtle, on a structure that represents the speed of a tiger. With 249 steps making up the walkway, and LED lights so that the climb can be appreciated after dark, this twisted metal track gives you a chance to see this classic ride from an entirely new perspective day or night. Read more here.
Architect: Ulrich Genth and Heike Mutter
Location: Ehinger Str. 117, 47249 Duisburg (Google)
18. Langen Foundation
© Lorenzo Zandri
Langen Foundation near Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany is a museum designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The foundation showcases a collection of Oriental Art and Modern Art. It is located on the grounds of the Museum Insel Hombroich. Marianne Langen’s collection of Japanese art, once mainly housed in Switzerland, consists of about 500 works dating from the 12th to the 19th century. Her husband, Viktor, who held several patents for technical innovations in automobile production, had traveled regularly to visit customers in Japan, where the couple’s collection was formed. The Langen Foundation’s building was created on grounds which used to be a NATO rocket base. The building has double-skin volume and two half-buried temporary exhibition wings. Read more here.
Architect: Tadao Ando
Location: Raketenstation Hombroich 1, 41472 Neuss (Google)
© Rasmus Hjortshøj
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel all began as a sketch, eventually evolving to become a very elegant yet basic landmark in Germany’s natural landscape. The design was constructed by local farmers who wanted to honor their patron saint, Bruder Klaus of the 15th century. Arguably the most interesting aspects of the church are found in the methods of construction, beginning with a wigwam made of 112 tree trunks. Upon completion of the frame, layers of concrete were poured and rammed atop the existing surface, each around 50cm thick. When the concrete of all 24 layers had set, the wooden frame was set on fire, leaving behind a hollowed blackened cavity and charred walls. Read more here.
Architect: Peter Zumthor
Location: Iversheimer Str., 53894 Mechernich (Google)
20. Autobahnkirche Siegerland
The initiative for this project came from Hanneliese and Hartmut Hering, after they had visited an Autobahn church in south Germany. Just one glance at the map revealed that a place like this was lacking in the entire Siegerland area, and consequently also along the very busy A 45 motorway. Under the guidance of Michael Schumacher, it was designed in parallel with schneider+schumacher’s extension to the Städel Museum. The Christian-ecumenical church was realised thanks to numerous donations. Building work began in March 2011, starting with the archaic sculptural concrete foundation slab, which forms the base for the timber-framed church above. Read more here.
Architect: Schneider & Schumacher
Location: Elkersberg, 57234 Wilnsdorf (Google)
21. Leonardo Glass Cube
Leonardo Glass Cube is a glass-fronted brand pavilion in Bad Driburg, Germany designed by 3Deluxe. Designed for the Glaskoch Corporation, the pavilion is used for informal meetings and corporate hospitality. The pavilion features six metre high frame-less glass panels, fitted with disc springs to reduce stress from wind pressure. The grounds of the glaskoch corporation, which has been run by the founding family for five generations and distributes innovative high-grade glass and gift articles under the ‘Leonardo’ brand name world-wide, now boast striking corporate architecture. Since the official inauguration in 2007 it now forms a central element in the brand’s overall communicative presence. Read more here.
Location: 33014 Bad Driburg, Germany (Google)
22. MARTa Herford
Herford in the east of Westphalia is home to one of the most unusual museum buildings in the world. With its fluid and tilting forms, the Marta Herford is like a mysterious comet dropped from outer space. For the façade of the museum Frank Gehry chose dark-red brick, forming a sharp contrast to the bright stainless steel of the roof. And in complete contrast to the accustomed use in historical industrial buildings in the region, the bricks here are surprisingly set in motion. A completely different world of architecture made up of straight lines and right angles is opened up to the visitor in the lobby. This part of the building is within the former textile factory built in 1959 by the Ahlers company according to the plans of the architect Walter Lippold. Gehry left this original building largely unchanged in its basic structure. The first floor of the pre-existing building houses the Lippold Gallery, which provides the space several times a year for special presentations in a smaller format. Read more here.
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: Goebenstraße 2, 32052 Herford (Google)
23. Verband der Nordwestdeutschen Textil- und Bekleidungsindustrie e.V.
Behet Bondzio Lin architekten used the inspiration for the brick facade from the alabaster fold of the Beethoven statue by Max Klinger, which is in the Leipzig Picture Museum. The viewer sees a seemingly fluent light scarf over the knees of Beethoven and recognizes at the same time that it consists of solid stone. Following this image, Behet Bondzio Lin architekten employ six special stones with a gradient that increases in gradient, creating a seemingly moving façade of light and shadow. The analogy to a light cloth over which the wind blows arises. The elongated structure is enclosed on three sides by a completely closed brick façade. The volume, closed to the east, south and west and open to the north, is the basis for an energy-optimized office building. Due to the north orientation, all rooms are well supplied with daylight and do not require sun protection. This allows even in midsummer the full-time view of the employees in the countryside. Read more here.
Architect: Behet Bondzio Lin Architects
Location: Martin-Luther-King-Weg 10, 48155 Münster (Google)
Check these and other amazing locations on the map below or download the The Free Architecture Guide of North Rhine-Westphalia (PDF).