The architecture prevents one growing lonely...

Wolfgang Grimm, Neighborhood Manager in Worms
ESA? You mean like the space agency?
No, not quite. ESA stands for Energiesparende-Studentenwohnheims-Architektur (energy-efficient student-dormitory architecture). It’s a special kind of dormitory. In keeping with the philosophy of our well-known namesake, the house was built in the spirit of research and experimenting with new ideas. Since then, the small (space) project has always been staffed by a crew of 20 students for more than 30 years and is a testament to alternative architecture. The name, however, came far later than the idea behind it.

The beginnings:

At the start of the 80s, Professor Eissler, building construction professor at the University of Kaiserslautern (Technische Universität Kaiserslautern), came up with the idea of ​​designing an energy-efficient residential building. At the same time, there came a perfect request from the state of Rhineland Palatinate: Would it be possible to start a DIY project for students at the TUK? In Stuttgart, there already existed the DIY-house “Bauhäusle”. This was used as a model so that, in the years that followed, Professor Eissler was able to make this wish a reality. With a planning and construction period of more than 5 years, he and his partner Wolf Hoffmann (acting as construction manager) made the ESA their project. Over time, more than 100 students, about 20 scientific staff members and several trained craftsmen worked on the construction site. What is so different in ESA than in other dormitories?

The Architecture:

Anyone who has seen the house at close range will notice the difference immediately. But not everyone gets so close. Some people pass the big greenhouse on the campus of the TU Kaiserslautern on their way to the forest without even realizing that students of all kinds live here. ESA was built using the Haus-im-Haus-Prinzip (an architectural concept describing using an exterior (usually glass) shell to heat up and illuminate the interior). In ESA, the 20 living units, the central common kitchen, the living room, the cellars and bathrooms are all contained within a foil and glass shell which at first glance makes it looks like the greenhouses you would see in botanical gardens.

Through the seasons:

Upon entering the outer shell through the main doors, a unique world opens up to you, dependant on the season. In Winter you can’t quite yet envision the future splendour of the plants. Instead, the ESA presents its unique architecture undecorated. In the centre: the kitchen and community complex. A large glass facade, a round roof and its separate position elevate the kitchen to the heart of the house. To either side, the rooms, gardens and terraces are stacked over three floors, each unique to their residents. The house’s round roofs, long corridors and the symmetry of the wooden lattice girders create an aesthetic that is second to none. Spring starts early under the foil roof. Whilst the inhabitants of the upper floors are already testing out their summer clothes, those living in the basement still stray through the corridors in thick pullovers. The almond blossoms, the wine buds and the clematis stretches its tendrils towards the sun. It is the time for spring cleaning. Humidity, hot air, soaked with the scents of lively vegetation. Temperatures well over 40 ° C. It is summer. With sufficient irrigation, the ESA quite literally turns into a jungle. Meter-long green curtains trail down from the rafters, kiwi and wine growing together to form a thick roof of leaves providing much-appreciated shade. Only the cellar escapes the tropical temperatures. Down here, the red brick on which the house nestles cools. Autumn is coming. The house cools down. The smell of fog and wood is spreading. In the last days of sunshine in the valley, we return to cleaning, arranging and repairing… This special dorm is dressed colourfully… For the last time?

The Community:

The centre of the house is the kitchen, which is shared by the 20 residents and together with the living room above the kitchen is the central community hub. Preventing common areas such as the kitchen sinking into chaos, even despite its 20 cooks, is done by the good structuring of the community. Responsibility is part of ESA life: keeping the kitchen in good condition, watering the plants in the foyer, feeding the cat or managing the dormitory cash register. All this and much more is regulated by duties that are taken on a voluntary basis. Organisational matters are democratically discussed and decided together at the monthly house meetings. As it is already clear, the ESA experience is anything but isolation, to which the architecture of the house contributes significantly. The common kitchen encourages the residents to cook together and enjoy game nights together. The gardens that belong to each room encourages gardening and to contribute in some way towards the design of the house.

Who lives in ESA:

The ESA hab been one of the Studierendenwerk Kaiserslautern’s student residences for quite some time. Thus, only students of the TU Kaiserslautern and the Hochschule Kaiserslautern could move here. Already back then the resident’s subjects of study were very varied, which enables interdisciplinary exchange among the students. Now as we have found the Stiftung für die TU Kaiserslautern as our new landlord, time will show whether we can change this policy in order that apprentices can soon be living here as well. Already now we have a new roommate who is doing his voluntary ecological year here in ESA. So it can only get exciting.