Zeche Zollverein: Excited about escalators and industrial architecture

I had been planning to visit Zeche Zollverein for years, so I got really excited when I was invited to a conference right in this area.


The industrial area of Zeche Z­ollverein consists of a complete infrastructure of a coal-mining site, which was in use until 1993 and closed because of the decrease in the demand for coke, after running for

150 years.

The buildings in the industrial complex show outstanding examples of the application of modern design concepts in architecture in a technical context, which also got it named World Heritage Site.


Today several of the buildings accommodate cultural institutions like the Ruhrmuseum and the Red-dot-award-museum. In 2006 a cubic building overlooking the area by Sanaa was added.


This is where my conference took place and in my opinion it's one of the best event locations I've ever been to.


The appearance of the building is coined by its facade with 132 cubic cut-outs. They seem to be positioned randomly but are concentrated towards the south-west and north-east corners – the result of a daylight simulation and to provide light for the different usages.


From the interior the windows reveal a view over the industrial complex, highlighting it with white window frames like a passepartout. These frames didn't come to use on the exterior side to keep the appearance simple and clean.


This is what the building looks like when it's not raining.

picture above by a.bo via creative commons license

obviously it was raining cats and dogs when I was there, and this is what it looks like then:

The main area is on the first floor, where a grey carpet absorbs the noise, creating an acoustically pleasant atmosphere, which the other floors lack of.

Despite the 10m hight between floors, this space feels calm and comfortable.


The concrete surface connects the storeys visually with each other and with the facade, giving the whole building a matching appearance.



I was overly excited about this before I even got to Essen. I really wanted to see the Rem Koolhaas escalator and staircase at the Ruhrmuseum. And: it exceeded my expectations.


The escalator leads to the Ruhrmuseum hosting a permanent exhibition about the industrial complex and coal mining in the area. I didn't have the time to really look at the exhibition (because I was riding up and down the escalator) but I heard it's worth visiting.


The escalator will be the first thing you see walking towards the museum.

Its orange glow symbolizes glowing coal running down transport routes, stressing the industrial background of the buildings once more.

The stairs in between the two escalators are painted black and stay out of the spotlight, highlighting the orange zigzag handrail around it even more.

The glass housing surrounding the whole architectural body reflects the orange glow, stressing the impression of a transportation route.

The same design picture is used for the staircase in the museum itself, where the handrails form an orange glowing grove. In the dark surrounding, the gleaming handrails give the only light and orientation, making the visitors feel like coal miners themselves (almost).


Walking over to the Red Dot Design Museum:

The atmosphere here is once more exuded by the contrast of old and new.

The buildings used were once the power house for the industrial complex and were closed down in 1986.

In 1997, the building was rebuilt for its new purpose by Norman Foster.

The new interior in glass and concrete cuts through the industrial pipe works and steel staircases, exhibiting both, the exhibition pieces of industrial design and the architecture.

Unfortunately it seems like the museum has too much to show by now, with not enough exhibition space, resulting in objects being attached to the steel framework in random places, pretty much destroying the clean look showing the contrast Foster aimed for.


But still, this is an impressive piece of architecture with a new structure running through the old power house, giving credit to both, the new and the old.

I swear I didn't put this there, it seriously is part of the exhibition

Looking at the pictures, I'm just as excited as when I strolled through the area. I can't believe it took me so long and I absolutely need to go again with a little more time on my hands.

Have you been? Or can you recommend another industrial area, that has been transformed into a piece of art?


Zeche Zollverein, Essen


How to get there:

take the tram 107 from Essen main station

Check here for more options


How much:

Ruhrmuseum: about 8€, there's all kinds of different tickets

Red Dot Design Museum: 6€

on Fridays: Pay what you want


Since the area is enormous and there is so much to see, you can download an app for orientation and more information the Zollverein Website

Write a comment

Comments: 4
  • #1

    Marilyn Jones (Saturday, 10 January 2015 17:34)

    Awesome post. I love the design elements and the photos!!

  • #2

    Sarah (Saturday, 10 January 2015 17:45)

    thank you, Marilyn! Have you ever been there?

  • #3

    Say Cheesy Cake (Sunday, 11 January 2015 15:01)

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing this post. That elevator is stunning! Also love your photography. :-)

    Jo of saycheesycake.blogspot.nl
    Drop by anytime :-)

  • #4

    Sarah (Sunday, 11 January 2015 15:05)

    thanks, Cheesy Cake!
    I loved the elevator as well!