Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre
by Max Dudler


Heidelberg Castle visitor centre by Max Dudler

We love projects that involve castles. Windows are set within two-metre-deep recesses in the stone walls of this castle visitor centre in southwest Germany by Swiss architect Max Dudler.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Positioned at the entrance to the historic Heidelberg Castle ruins, the two-storey visitor's centre borders the retaining walls of the sloping grounds, alongside a seventeenth century saddle-store.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

The roughly cut stone blocks that comprise the exterior walls are made from local sandstone.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Inside the building, the windows sit flush against the white-plastered walls, while the floor is finished in terrazzo.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

If you're a fan of castles, see more stories about them here.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Photography is by Stefan Müller.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Here's some more information from Max Dudler:

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre

The first new building to be constructed at Heidelberg Castle for more than four hundred years – a visitor centre designed by architect Max Dudler – is now open to the public.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Heidelberg Castle ranks as one of the most important Renaissance buildings north of the Alps. Having been partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, and on many occasions since, the castle was abandoned altogether in the eighteenth century. Today the famous ruin serves as a museum. Receiving more than one million visitors a year, it is one of the country’s top tourist destinations and makes a lasting impression on international tourists visiting Germany.

The purpose of the visitor centre is to familiarize guests with the castle before they proceed to the castle proper. The visitor centre showcases the castle’s history as well as orientating guests so as to ensure a trouble-free visit. In May 2009, Max Dudler’s design prevailed in the architectural selection procedure. The visitor centre’s foundation stone was laid in summer 2010, making it the first new building to be constructed at Heidelberg Castle for more than four hundred years. This building shows how the contemporary architecture of Max Dudler is rooted in history. At the same time, its abstract form underscores both the grandeur and actuality of this German cultural monument.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

The new building is situated outside the old defensive ring wall, at the entrance gate to the castle and garden (Hortus Palatinus). The narrow strip of land chosen for the new structure lies between a small garden house and a saddle store built in the reign of Frederick V. The building backs onto a seventeenth century retaining wall which shores up the park terraces above. With its building lines following those of its neighbours, the sculpturally designed visitor centre structurally completes this small ensemble of buildings in the forecourt area.

In architectural terms, the building blends in with the surrounding historical fortifications through its re-interpretation of elements of the existing site’s architecture. The window embrasures, for example, are set more than two metres into its walls, echoing the large-sized apertures that can be seen in the neighbouring saddle store. The windows of the visitor centre are positioned according to the building’s interior requirements and also offer visitors new visual relationships with the entry building and garden outside. The popular Elisabeth Gate in particular can be seen from many parts of the interior. The façade’s deeply-set embrasures are made possible because of the special layout of the building: the broad expanse of its exterior walls hide a number of small side rooms and a stairwell. Like pockets (French: poches), these interior recesses offer space for display cabinets, shelves and seating areas, while the centre of the narrow building remains open.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

For the façade, local Neckar Valley sandstone has been machine-cut to form a monolithic wall of roughly-cut blocks with joins that are barely visible. This masonry detailing is a contemporary re-interpretation of the historical retaining wall, with its hand-cut, undressed stonework. Unlike the heavy relief of the building’s exterior, the surfaces of its interior are smooth. The large window panes are fitted flush with the white plastered walls, as are the lighting panels set into the white plastered ceilings. The floor consists of a light blue polished terrazzo. All the fixtures and fittings in the recesses, as well as the doors and other furnishings are made of cherry wood.

Ensuring a smooth flow of large numbers of visitors was a particular challenge posed by the architectural brief. Dudler’s design solves this with its ingenious ‘architectural promenade’ through the building: visitors proceed from the entry hall through to the educational room, then up onto the roof terrace with its elevated views of the castle before exiting via the exterior stairs at the rear of the building to begin a tour of the castle proper. In this way, the full potential of this small building is realised, ensuring it has both multi-purpose usage and allows the maximum throughput of visitors.

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Building Name: Besucherzentrum Schloss Heidelberg
Location: Heidelberger Schloss, Schlosshof 1, D-69117 Heidelberg
Client: Land Baden-Württemberg represented by Vermögen und Bau Baden-Württemberg, Mannheim Office
User: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg

Building Volumes: 490 m² usable floor area, 770 m² gross surface area, 3450 m³ gross building volume
Total building cost: 3 million Euros

Heidelberg Castle Visitor Centre by Max Dudler

Design and Construction Period:
Design commenced: April 2009
Construction commenced: 2010
Building Completion: December 2011

Architect: Max Dudler
Project Manager: Simone Boldrin
Co-workers: Patrick Gründel, Julia Werner

  • Very interesting project, a good example of more is less

  • stuart

    well done Max – great job, admirable restraint

  • Heavenairport

    Interesting. I can't help thinking such deep reveals are a little redundant. One-trick pony? A competent building but no more.

    • mks

      I think it is interesting in the same way as Jørn Utzon's excellent Can Feliz house : an impression of extreme mass created by what is in fact simply an undulation wall.

      Here this trick is used in a functionally smart way : by placing the supporting functional spaces (toilets, storage spaces, possibly even staircases) directly on the façade it should have been able to create a very clean and functional plan. The expression of mass without is without sacrifice, it can be defended as being simply a result of a smart organisation of the program.

      The stones could have been bigger to my taste, but it seems to be a very good project indeed.

  • leo

    there's a problem with the water on top of the facades…

    • xtiaan

      its differently coloured stone…

  • mik

    where is the 400 year's old castle?
    I don't see it.
    And where are the plans of this project?

  • Peter

    Sorry, but there´s nothing more awful than a new building in an old castle style. Trying hard to mimic the old substance makes it an even bigger eyesore.

    • mksh

      It is hardly a new building in an old castle style, is it? It is a stone building. But since stone arguably is the most abundantly available – though geographically limited – natural building material thinkable, it'd be more surprising if it wasn't.

      Then again, supposedly being a stone building, it could have had the decency not to wallpaper its stones to the ceiling.

  • Nelly

    Gargoyles are a nice touch!- kind of medieval minimalism. It would be interesting to see a plan to see how those deep reveals work. Is it just a lot of wasted space? Or is the building super green with like, 1.5m insulation? Or, more cleverly, does the plan work around the thickness? Looks like it may do from the photos….drawings needed!

  • Looking through the old arch at the new facade (in picture #3) really shows off the discrepancy between stone used to its maximum potential, versus stone used as decorative tile. Deeply recessed windows don’t really imply mass because there’s no lintel or arch supporting the span over the windows. It’s clearly a thin, thin veneer.

    To their credit, at least they used a similar material. Lately it seems like every building featured on DeZeen that might try to fit into a context like this is a boldly blank concrete facade with sharp, painful angles, meant to show off the designers inability to listen.