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Folkwang University

Basic Information

Since the opening of a new building for the Folkwang University of the Arts in October 2017, Zollverein has become a lively university campus. The new building is located within the World Heritage Site, on the northern edge of Area B with former mine Shafts 1, 2, and 8. The impressive cuboid building designed by the Japanese architectural firm SANAA, which has been used by the Folkwang University since 2010, is nearby. 
The Folkwang University is an internationally leading university for music, theatre, dance, design, and academic studies, and attracts a large number of international students. The university is headquartered in the south of Essen (Werden) and is spread over five campuses in the heart of the Ruhr metropolis. The Folkwang University encourages cooperation among the arts, and initiates local cooperation and communities engagement.
The new building provides almost 19,000 sqm of floor area; houses the Design Faculty with its study programmes in Photography, Industrial Design, Communication Design, Art, and Design Science; and the internationally renowned Folkwang Graduate Programme "Heterotopia Design". Around 500 students, 70 lecturers, and administrative staff have moved into the new premises, offices, workshops, studios, laboratories, and seminar rooms. In addition, the SANAA building, constructed at Zollverein in 2006, continues to be used for exhibitions, and events.

Long-term perspective: A lively campus at Zollverein provides new stimuli and synergies, in particular for the creative industries in the city and region, and enhances opportunities for district development at Zollverein and the vicinity.

Urban Development

The locating of a campus at Zollverein represents a new dimension in the revitalization of the site. The faculty's subject — design — fits perfectly with the development concepts for Zollverein that were established in the early 1990s (as confirmed by the (urban) masterplan), which sought to strengthen this particular subject at the site. This development potentially generates spill-over effects in attracting other creatives.

Although the decision on the location was made at a rather regional level — mainly by Folkwang University, the Zollverein Foundation, and through regional policies — the effects are particularly visible at the micro level at Zollverein itself and in the neighbourhood: Using a Folkwang-specific participatory design philosophy, students and teachers interact with the location. Several practical projects, (undergraduate) research projects, and thesis works interlink with the closer and more distant neighbourhoods. Examples include a cooperation agreement on using vacant space at Zollverein for student projects; the initiation of a partnership project between the photographic archive of the Ruhr Museum and the university; a graduation thesis with a draft augmented reality proposal for the guided tours (Denkmalpfad Zollverein); an upgrade of the railway underpass at the northern access to Zollverein, involving local residents; and photographic research in a neighbourhood quarter. As a further immediate effect, the addition of 500 students on campus requires expansion of the food options available at Zollverein and in the immediate vicinity. The availability of living spaces for students in the district continues to be good and is intended to be expanded by student halls of residence (micro apartments) in the future. The growing number of students living in the district also increases purchasing power. Furthermore, the new university faculty at Zollverein also functions as a catalyst for improving mobility in the region. 
On the macro level, effects are rather indirectly noticeable: Zollverein is gaining even greater prominence in the region, in particular as a design location. In addition, the students themselves function as multipliers: international students in particular contribute to the worldwide promotion and reputation of the site.


The significance of universities in promoting innovation and regional economic development and competitiveness is the subject of numerous research activities, in particular focussing on the interrelations between university sites and economy, and on knowledge production through universities as an essential component of innovation, for example in the “triple-helix model of innovation”.


The university building is owned by the RAG Foundation. The Foundation commissioned a public–private partnership, Welterbe Entwicklungsgesellschaft (founded by property developer KÖLBL KRUSE and RAG Montan Immobilien) as developers. The Folkwang University is the tenant of the new building for an initial period of 20 years.
The entire development process can be structured into three main phases:
1. The (urban) masterplan created development guidance for the area, confirmed in 2003 with a first legally binding land-use plan (Bebauungsplan). The property was administered as a trust fund by the state-owned company NRW.URBAN. In 2005, in order to concretize the envisaged development, soil contamination was addressed by excavating, treating, and compacting the ground.
2. The decision to locate Folkwang University at Zollverein then led to an architectural design competition (integrating the urban situation) in 2010, resulting in a more detailed legally binding land-use plan for the specific sector in 2011.
3. Following a Europe-wide public tender procedure organised by NRW.URBAN in cooperation with the university, the Welterbe Entwicklungsgesellschaft was accepted as investor and developer. This resulted in the purchase of the areas to be developed. 
During the entire process, common planning instruments were used, e.g., a land-use plan, environmental impact assessment, an architectural competition, formal development plans, a developer competition, and the building consent in collaboration with conservation authorities.


The new building is located on a plot of approximately 7,650 sqm within the boundaries of the World Heritage site, in a zone formerly used to store materials for mine Shafts 1, 2, and 8. The edge of the property there comprised a protected historic boundary wall; however, due to its state of decay, it was removed and rebuilt. Already in the masterplan, this was designated as a built-up area. Since a road and the railway line are located to the rear of the new building, no visual axes had to be considered, but only a design that was generally compatible with the World Heritage Site. ICOMOS representatives and regional conservation authorities accompanied the architectural competition and advised the jury.


The new university building, designed by MGF Architects, has been carefully integrated into the structural order of Zollverein. The flush outer shell refers to the design of the Schupp and Kremmer buildings at Zollverein: closed parapet elements alternate with glazed areas. The geometric projections and recesses from floor plan and section find their counterparts in horizontal bands with varying with height projections. Colour and materiality appear discreet yet at the same time create reflections of neighbouring areas.
The main entrance of the building is oriented to the planned central green axis designated in the formal development plan for the area.
Inside, a spatial continuum has been shaped, interconnected with multi-storey airspaces and atriums. The arrangement and size of the corridors have created informal communication, and exhibition and work areas. There are views to the World Heritage Site from almost every interior room.
The building is open at all times, enabling students to work around the clock and at weekends.
Since the area to the south at the front side is still under development, the access situation currently seems inconvenient. The "Essen-Zollverein Nord" train (S-Bahn) station is about 800 meters away and is connected by a new pedestrian and bicycle path. Under the guidance of the Zollverein Foundation, a mobility concept is underway, to make the campus more accessible by public transport, for students of the other Folkwang campuses and those from neighbouring cities.

Communities Engagement

The decision in favour of the location was mainly made by three actor groups: the Folkwang University itself, regional politics, and the Zollverein Foundation. Since the neighbourhood quarter was anticipated as having various impacts, the public information campaign particularly focused on local stakeholders, for example at the scheduled Katernberg conferences.
The Folkwang project started to engage local residents even before the university took up residency of the new building, for instance by scheduling “tunnel consultation hours” in a temporary structure next to the bleak, threateningly perceived railway underpass at the northern access to Zollverein. Based on several participatory actions involving students and local users, the underpass was finally redesigned. In addition, Zollverein Mittendrin and Folkwang University run cooperation projects that address the local residents, including summer workshops such as "MakerSpace Zollverein".

Sustainable Development & Climate Change

Locating a campus at Zollverein mainly meets two of the UN SDGs (sustainable development goals): 
1. Quality education: Although this was first of all the relocation of an existing faculty into a new building, it was an important step in strengthening not only the faculty but the whole university. Now with sufficient space and suitable rooms, the faculty has taken the opportunity to launch two further postgraduate programmes. For the university, the Zollverein site is of particular importance as an internationally renowned location with a variety of synergistic potentials. In addition, this campus strengthens Essen's competitiveness as an attractive university location.
2. Sustainable cities and communities: The new building revives the area and contributes to higher urban densities. This also helps to avoid urban sprawl and could thus contribute to reducing CO2 concentrations at both regional and global levels. 
The settlement of a "generation future" at Zollverein has a further social dimension and can serve as a narrative: From its former ascendancy to become the most productive coal mine in the Ruhr region, through its decline, into a creative and innovative future.


Although the university is an educational institution, its curricula are not directly related to the World Heritage Site. Consistently, the University's educational programmes are not featured on our website. However, the World Heritage Site might inspire further research or different formats of learning. 
The students use the local opportunities for their own educational interests: they test materials, experiment, research, and get to know the World Heritage Site in their own way.