Kunstsammlung NRW
Maria Veits im F3 Schmela Haus, Foto: Kunstsammlung

Take it or leave it: a guide to living in Schmela Haus

Maria Veits is a researcher and curator from St. Petersburg. During her internship at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, she lived at Aldo van Eycks Schmela Haus for three months. She described her thoughts, feelings and ideas for #32:

'You will either love it or you will hate it', Ansgar Lorenz, an assitant curator from K20 said when welcoming me in Schmela Haus, where I was supposed to spend three months doing my curatorial residency at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. I had rather mixed feelings about the space from the very moment I entered it – it seemed quite gloomy, rough and too big for just me. Also very industrial and dark. Ascetic. Bare. Big. Warm. Architecturally sophisticated. One of a kind.  Nothing similar to places I'd lived in before. A combination of emotions must have been reflected on my face because Ansgar added immediately: 'Oh, and by the way, Susan Philipsz stayed here when she was working on her piece for K21’. Well, if she was fine here, I will be, too, I guess.

On my first morning in Schmela Haus I woke up because the bells of the St. Andreas church that, in fact,  has one of the most beautiful organs I've ever seen, wouldn't stop ringing. Now, they wake me up everyday. And the police sirens wake me up at night. Who said Düsseldorf was a quite place? Not in Altstadt around Christmas, that's for sure!

Now, after staying at Schmela Haus for long enough, I must say one may have rather complicated relationship with this place, but you definitely establish one, just as if you would with a person. This place certainy has a character.

Built in 1971 by the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, Schmela Haus is a unique place and an exceptional experience. Living in the only building by van Eyck in Germany is extraordinary and exciting in the first place. Plus, being located in the very heart of Düsseldorf Altstadt, Schmela Haus has the most central location possible and is close to everything – both K20 and K21, the Kunsthalle, the Museum Kunstpalast, the Film Museum, the KIT and other major city art and cultural venues. In addition, it's a huge space, so if you decide to throw a private party in the city center, it's the best place ever.

Van Eyck was an architect who was years ahead of his time and realized projects that combined opposites and explored polarities. He was also experimenting with form and shape and challenged traditional architectural convenions. For instance, the Amsterdam municipal orphanage he built in 1955-60 combines elemets of greek  architecture, arabic-looking houses and the idea of an African settlement. At that, the entire orphanage complex looks like a small city, which plan, if to look at it from above, resembles the Tetris game.

One of the architect's main ideas was to design buildings in close connection to the urban context and would be as multifunctional as possibile. At the same time, he appreciated the human aspect of architecture and closely considered the relation between the structure of the building, its purposes and the background of the people who will use it. These architectural principles become clear almost immediately when you live in Schmela Haus.

The local artist Andreas Schmitten was commissioned in 2013 to work with the public space of the venue that is used by Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen since 2009 – he created the atmosphere and designed the interior of the lecture hall and the bar.  Executed in warm colors  - red, yellow and orange – and filled with cozy furniture and lamps, the interior contrasts with the cold brick walls of the building. Schmitten, who had conducted an extensive research of other van Eyck buildings in the Netherlands before starting his work in Schmela Haus, says he was inspired by the cinema sets and maquettes created for movie scenes. To me, the slightly retro tone of the bar and the lecture hall also reminds of Andorra, a cinema theater with a few bars in Helsinki owned and run by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, a venue famous for its screening programs and public events.

Another important initiative to be run in Schmela Haus – besides the discussions, talks and film screenings which take place under the label “Futur 3 Thursdays at 7pm – is the residency program for international curators. Curators from non-European countries are especially welcome to spend some time in Düsseldorf and conduct a research of the local art scene. I'm very lucky to be the first long-term resident of Schmela Haus. We have had our ups and downs but for the most part it is an enjoyable experience. It provides space for solitude and work. And if you feel a bit lonely in the house you can always invite many people – the place can host quite a large group! It is spacious and multifunctional. It is rather quiet but you dont feel cut off the city life. It may seem a bit tough in the beginning but then you end up loving the brick walls, the three balconies and the leather chairs from the 1970s. Plus, this is house a with its own bar! Too bad I can't stay longer – the place is booked already! The artist Wael Shawky, who is commissioned to produce a large-scale project for K21 will be the next resident to experience the life at Schmela. I'm sure he will like it! Eventually.

Maria Veits is a researcher and curator, cofounder of the St. Petersburg art organization Creative Association of Curators TOK (www.tok-spb.org/en). Maria is one of the winners of the The Annual Internship Programme for Young Curators 2013-2014 organized by EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture). Her internship at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen is supported by Goethe Institute.

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