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Rockpanel: SOS Clearing House Salzburg

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In 2001, the ‘Clearing House’ was opened in Salzburg, a facility offered by the not-for-profit organisation SOS-Kinderdorf e.V. From this year, new perspectives are also presented by the design of the building itself, which has been re-opened after undergoing a comprehensive renovation during the summer.

A basket of security and confidence

In 2001, the ‘Clearing House’ was opened in Salzburg, a facility offered by the not-for-profit organisation SOS-Kinderdorf e.V. Since then, child refugees from crisis zones across the world have been finding refuge, aid and new perspectives to life here. And from this year, new perspectives are also presented by the design of the building itself, which has been re-opened after undergoing a comprehensive renovation during the summer. Now, with its unusually-designed façade, the building reflects the objective of the SOS Children´s Villages, which is to provide a new home where refugee children and young people can feel safe and cared for.

Over the past ten years, more than 600 young people from 47 countries have been welcomed to the Clearing House in Salzburg. Many of those, aged between 14 and 18, have fled from war and destruction in their native countries. Arriving alone in Austria, they are often traumatised and lack basic necessities: food, accommodation, official documents and knowledge of the language. The SOS Clearing House offers the children protection and supports them on their journey of integration into a new homeland and a society that is initially alien to them.

Renovation as an opportunity

The original building, which was constructed in the 1970´s and later used as the Clearing House, was found to have structural faults that were increasingly compromising the safety of those living there.

The building no longer satisfied current requirements for a simple youth hostel, much less for a facility with such an important purpose. “In several areas of the building the safety of the residents and users could no longer be guaranteed in the longer term, even after a number of smaller-scale improvements had been carried out,” recalls architect Michael Strobl, who in 2009 was entrusted with the project planning. “It was therefore decided to undertake a comprehensive renovation and take this opportunity to substantially improve the energy features of the building, while at the same time creating a special piece of architecture for Salzburg.” 

Exciting design assignment

Strobl´s idea for an intriguing facade design required an innovative approach from the contractors: “The Clearing House is all about providing welcome and assistance, support, care, integration, structure and protection. We wanted the facade design to reflect these essential characteristics of the Clearing House. That’s how the idea of integrating weaving into the façade emerged. Weaving is a craft which is practiced throughout the world to create things that range from simple household items to entire houses.  The weaving skill signifies attributes such as simplicity and strength and represents frugality and the sustainable use of resources,” notes Michael Strobl. “All of this motivated us to look for a modern facade building material which we could weave in the design.”

Anyone who stands before the Clearing House today is immediately struck by and understands the architect’s vision. The building appears like a gigantic woven basket that symbolises security to be found inside, as well as the importance of trust and structure, which these young people have to re-learn as a result of their experiences. The creation of the facade was a remarkable experience for Klaus Fasching, the project manager from building contractor Appesbacher Zimmerei Holzbau GmbH from the nearby town of Abersee. Working with up to ten colleagues, he spent around three weeks on the site ‘weaving’ and assembling the facade. “For all of us it was far from being an everyday job, and that made it all the more interesting,” says Fasching.

Vertical tubes and flexible facade boards

In an initial processing stage, the old facade of the 1970´s building, constructed from un-insulated washed concrete slabs, and the windows, were entirely removed or disassembled. Wooden bar facade elements that had been prefabricated in the Appesbacher workshop, and in which 240 mm of mineral wool insulation ensured modern and fireproof external wall insulation, were then fastened to the remaining massive sheet structure.

When planning the facade, in total over 100 elements, it was already taken into account that vertical aluminium Z-profiles would later be attached in a repeating pattern onto the wooden bars all around the building.  This helped to connect the substructure and the facade cladding. Klaus Fasching describes the implementation of the design, “Vertical tubes were installed as supports for the woven ROCKPANEL® facade boards at a distance of 960 mm apart all around the building. They remain visible as the ´strands´ running through the wickerwork. So for the observer the facade is clearly positioned in front of the building and appears to be independent of it.”

The impressive wickerwork was made possible because the ROCKPANEL facade boards can be made to curve with ease and can be very easily cut to any desired dimensions. “And this despite the fact that these boards are produced from basalt stone, as a result of which they are completely weather-resistant and highly robust“, adds Michael Strobl.

“We had no difficulty slipping the strips that we cut from the ROCKPANEL boards between the invisible Z-profiles and the visible aluminium tubes.” explains Klaus Fasching. “Together with the architect, we tested several wickerwork variants and then chose the material that, in our opinion, was most attractive and workable for this project.”

Cutting without waste

Together with the Appesbacher firm, the architect Michael Strobl then developed an installation and cutting plan to ensure that the strips in various widths were cut from the original 3,050 x 1,250 mm large ROCKPANEL boards without any cutting losses. The architect recalls: “We wanted to work as economically as possible with the material. Throughout the project implementation we paid close attention to achieving the best results while staying within a tight budget.” The project client, SOS Kinderdorf, and those who live in the local area are now able to see how well the facade material supports the architect’s concept of a traditional and natural cladding in the first few weeks since the facade was completed. ROCKPANEL boards from the Natural range were used in Salzburg. How these uncoated boards look is determined by the climate. The initially intensely yellow-green wickerwork darkened from day to day. “Like natural willow, which is woven while moist and then slowly dries, this project has created a facade that seems very much alive,“ Klaus Fasching describes the process.

An interesting contrast to the today rich brown woven facade surfaces is formed by the white surfaces that are not covered by the woven visible facade. These are composed of concrete slabs that are protected against the influences of weathering and mechanical damage by a white facade coating. Based on Klaus Fasching’s experience, “The woven facade panels don’t require any additional treatment.  Their surface is completely weather-resistant.”


The project players

Principal: Non-profit association SOS-Kinderdorf, Innsbruck

Architecture: Strobl Architekten ZT GmbH, Salzburg

Building contractor: Appesbacher Zimmerei Holzbau GmbH, Abersee

Facade boards: ROCKPANEL Group, Roermond  

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