In the heart of Lindenau in the West of Leipzig, a long-abandoned powerplant is roaring to life again, generating not electricity, but art. Welcome to the Kunstkraftwerk.
It’s the brainchild of Uni Leipzig Prof. Markus Löffler (Medical Computer Science, Statistics and Epidemiology) and Ulrich Maldinger, an architect and designer working in Leipzig since the 1990s. Friends and business partners, they bought the plant together in 2012, with the dream of creating a new kind of artistic space.
Into this space, they wanted to combine art, science, and culture. The dream has taken a long time to construct, but at the center of Löffler and Maldinger’s plans is the building itself.
Built in the 1860s as a gas plant for Leipzig’s homes and transportation, the Kunstkraftwerk was converted into a heating plant in the 1960s.
Massive coal-fed boilers burned 6.5 tons of lignite coal every hour, generating steam to power Leipzig’s industry. The plant ran until 1992, when suddenly “it stopped operations from one day to the next” says Maldinger, the future director and co-founder of what would become the Kunstkraftwerk.
“One day the coal plant just stopped delivering coal. The managers didn’t know what to do, so they just said, ‘shut it down’”. Signs of the sudden halt were everywhere when Maldinger and his team arrived. “There were still food remains in the basement kitchen.”
Ten years of abandonment had not been kind to the old building. The roof had collapsed in places, and “when we first arrived, there was snow on the floors inside,” says Löffler. The dilapidation did not deter the pair, who spent over a year and a half overseeing the renovation. A new roof was put up, the massive 7-meter-tall boilers were removed, and pipes and vents were taken down to clear out the large halls and many smaller gallery spaces. Although much effort went into making the space usable, Maldinger and Löffler were careful not to lose the natural charm of the old plant.
“We left the space raw intentionally,” says Maldinger, “in every room a relic of the old factory has been preserved.”
The result is truly impressive. In the two large halls, the Kesselhalle (Boiler Hall) and the Maschinenhalle (Machinery Hall), vast spaces have been created to accommodate art exhibitions, theatrical productions, and private parties. The bar in the Maschinenhalle is built around a massive coal chute, and rusty industrial stairs lead visitors upstairs to the galleries. In the Kesselhalle, the boiler foundations are still visible, and a massive display of old gauges and dials reminds visitors that this space once powered a large part of the city.
Throughout the building, decoration is sparse. Rather than the usual sterile white art gallery walls, Löffler and Maldinger opted to leave the raw brick and crumbling plaster of the original plant on display. In some places, graffiti leftovers from the decade of abandonment are still visible.
The overall feeling is not one of decay, but of renewal.
This place could have been demolished for a new development, or simply left to crumble for another decade, if not for the vision of Löffler and Maldinger. The masterful preservation of the building creates a unique setting for installations and events.
Maldinger and Löffler have grand plans for the Kunstkraftwerk. The investment in the renovation was undertaken by the two men without any sponsors.
“We wanted to remain independent,” says Löffler, “we don’t have to specialize in any one form of culture. We’ve had contemporary dance projects, a small opera, kinetic art, and some very political works.”
The private, independent space is, indeed, an intersection of architecture, art, culture, and science. The technical and scientific background of the two men is a big inspiration for the types of projects undertaken by the Kunstkraftwerk.
The official opening will be the Illusion Art Gallery, a mind-bending exhibition of optical and auditory illusions that blend art, technology, and psychology. Another project is the cooperation with “Visual DJ” Devon Miles, who uses projectors and other visual forms of technology to transform the halls of the plant into Roman temples and underwater landscapes.
The directors of the Kunstkraftwerk hope to bring these crossings of art to a new audience, and have several art outreach projects underway. They have invited innovative young artists from all over Europe to display at the Kunstkraftwerk, have plans to undertake projects with refugee artists, and have created a “Cookbook for Art” program for children and youth, which they have presented at local schools and juvenile detention centers.
Most of all, the Kunstkraftwerk is an “adventure,” according to Löffler. It’s not just an investment for these men, but a journey, and a risk. As Löffler puts it, “true scientists search for the areas that have never been explored.”
By Kate Tyndall