“Transformation through culture – culture through transformation.” This wasn’t just the tagline of the RUHR.2010 European Capital of Culture campaign, it was also the stimulus for the creation of an innovative new centre for art and creativity in Dortmund. The key question was, “How can old industrial regions gain a new significance through culture, art and creativity and win wider appeal? An impressive symbol of this strategic transformation is the Dortmunder U, which was originally an industrial brewery built between 1926 and 1927. It was the first high-rise in Dortmund to feature rooftop signage – the distinctive U-shape and decorative rooftop element that have defined the cityscape ever since.
The building’s conversion from the former Union brewery into an innovative contemporary cultural centre between 2008 and 2010 was a new departure, creating a pioneering hub for art, education, research and creativity. The resulting establishment, with its imposing architecture, multi-purpose use and diverse range of shows and events is unique across Germany. The U offers stunning views – and it also looks impressive from the outside thanks to large-format film installations by director Adolf Winkelmann on the rooftop, which are visible from afar, and also shown inside the building.
The Dortmunder U is home to eight different institutions: a museum of modern and contemporary art, the Hartware MedienKunstVerein (a platform for contemporary and experimental (media) art), TU Dortmund University and the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the UZWEI – a cultural education facility, a library, the “Kino im U” cinema and a wide range of places to eat. The headquarters of the Dortmund Art Association (Dortmunder Kunstverein) and the european centre for creative economy (ecce) are nearby, which complement the exhibitions and events available at the U.
Inside the Dortmunder U, there is an impressive wall of art that spans all seven floors. The ethos of U is characterised by openness and permeability, featuring interdisciplinary works and installations that explore the intersections between art, science, creativity, media, design, architecture and society in the 21st century. The large body of classical, modern and contemporary art in the city museum collection is one concrete example of this idea of connectedness within the Dortmunder U. High-quality works from the museum’s permanent collection are exhibited alongside current exhibitions, which allows visitors to make new connections – and see how the past influences the present.
The other partner facilities in the U focus on exploring the relationships between creative formats and digital media in their projects, events and exhibitions. They actively work with neighbouring districts on a number of projects, as creative spaces and communicating art to children and young people play an important role. And as a popular destination for international congresses and cultural events in the Ruhr region, the Dortmunder U is a cultural beacon whose influence extends far beyond the city.
New formats such as Summer at the U (“Sommer am U”) with an attractive open-air programme of music and cultural events or the Innovative Citizen creators’ festival have established the U as a pioneering platform. The U has fulfilled the expectations that accompanied the redevelopment of the former brewery into an art and culture centre: in just five years, it has become the new symbol of Dortmund’s strategic transformation and an iconic landmark within Dortmund and the wider region, and today, it is a cultural venue with an international reach.