Reconstruction of the Immanuel Church in Cologne, Germany

Wooden structure that impresses

Published: 09/10/2015 00:00

According to the 2015 annual report from the Association of German Master Carpenters, an increasing number of builders are using the natural raw material. Both architecturally and in terms of construction time and cost, wooden builds can rival any solid construction traditionally built mainly using concrete or natural stone. Wood products from Metsä Wood were used to build the Immanuel Church in Cologne – a building that proves how innovative, sustainable and efficient wood-based buildings can be. 
The construction of churches is often equated with grandiosity and pomp. With the Immanuel Church, the evangelic parish of Cologne-Stammheim shows that sometimes less is more. Father Vorländer's former parish was merged with the neighbouring municipality Flittard in 2004. In this process, setting up the new chapel was a great challenge: construction costs and time had to be kept as low as possible. At the same time the goal was to construct an architecturally sophisticated building. During the architectural competition, it was the draft supplied by Berlin-based architects Sauerbruch Hutton which ultimately received the award.

Wood meets all construction requirements

As a construction material, wood offers many advantages. Alongside its aesthetic qualities and sustainability, wood is also an efficient solution. It impresses with its excellent thermal protection during winter and summer alike. It also makes light structures possible, and enables quick building processes. "Alongside architectural requirements, it was particularly important to keep an eye on the very tight cost framework for the Immanuel Church," comments Maria Schmitt, technical sales coordinator for building & industry at Metsä Wood Deutschland GmbH. "For this reason, all wood components used during this project were designed for maximum cost-effectiveness."

Technically innovative and highly efficient: Kerto® LVL - the all-rounder

Innovative wood products such as Kerto® laminated veneer lumbers were used for the Immanuel Church, providing an efficient solution. It is incredibly strong and dimensionally stable. Kerto® gets its high strength from its homogeneous bonded structure. The precise and very detailed production of the wood elements used during the project made it possible to install the individual parts quickly and smoothly on site. As a result, construction time was relatively short and the church was finished in less than a year. At the same time, construction costs were lowered through the use of wood: with a total budget of €3.7 million, the project was precisely on budget.

A wooden structure with high architectural standards

The result speaks for itself: the new Immanuel Church by Sauerbruch Hutton interprets the basilica building type in a new way. The building is clearly structured and the church interior is light, quiet and warm. This design results from a simple load-bearing system that immediately creates space, and that consists of a rib structure made of laminated veneer timber beams. "The visible wood structures are real eye-catchers. The Kerto® laminated veneer lumber doesn't need any additional cladding, meaning that it fulfils the high architectural requirements which we wanted to achieve with regards to surface feel, aesthetic appearance and indoor climate," says Maria Schmitt.

The pre-fabricated lumber veneer elements are waxed in white. A sensual counterpoint to this is provided by the front wall of the church interior: the organ is hidden behind a wall made of coloured wood slats. The eleven-metre-high nave can be extended if necessary, by opening the wings using folding walls made of wood. This type of structure makes it possible to use the space in a variety of ways. A range of activities and meetings take place here every day: lectures, concerts and celebrations.

Accessible to all

The church interior gets its brightness firstly through the roof window, a skylight above the altar, and secondly through the frosted pane behind the rising gallery. The church interior has a capacity of 160 people, and 60 more visitors can sit on the steps of the galley. The bell tower, which is also clad in wood and is 17 metres high, signals the chapel at the front, on the street. A wooden prayer chapel, which is open throughout, stands on the forecourt. The particular arrangement of the buildings, which stand in a semicircle around a leafy centre, opens the congregation's site for the community, thereby making a valuable contribution to the vibrant town.

Excellent performance

The simplicity of the Immanuel Church shows how mighty oaks spring from tiny acorns. It proves that advanced wood construction technology is able to rival any solid construction. The building fascinates church-goers, local residents and professional audiences equally. Its innovative and efficient wood design received the 2015 German Award for Wood Construction and the 2013 North Rhine-Westphalia Award for Wood Construction. Architects are also impressed by the sustainable and seminal culture of construction and awarded Sauerbruch Hutton for the church with the 2015 German Architecture Award and the 2014 Cologne Architecture Prize. It has also already received international recognition: in 2015, the Immanuel Church was on the short-list for the Mies van der Rohe Award, a renowned European Union award for contemporary architecture. Father Vorländer is convinced that many people have been so fascinated by the special architecture that they have found their path to his church. They then came back for the service they experienced in the church.