Natural idyll at a military training area: The Outdoor Recreation Center in Grafenwöhr
Text: Frank Kaltenbach
The Bavarian Forest National Park is a sought-after holiday destination for many tourists. But it is not only here that flora and fauna have been left to their own devices for decades; the same applies a hundred kilometres further north in the Upper Palatinate Forest , namely at the Grafenwöhr Military Training Area. A leisure camp – in this case a small settlement of wooden huts that merge in with their surroundings – has now been opened this location. The "temporary settlers" are not tourists, however, but U.S. Army soldiers the resting and recuperating with their families after tours of foreign duty.
Architect: Karlheinz Beer Architekt BDA und Stadtplaner
Location: Grafenwöhr, Oberpfälzer Wald, Bavaria, Germany
The facility, which is unique throughout Europe in form and concept, has been fondly named "Wild B.O.A.R Outdoor Recreation Center", or Bavaria Outdoor Adventure and Recreation, by the Americans in the Bavaria Tower Barracks. Located between wild boar rooting grounds and tank practice areas, the "jungle camp" in the Upper Palatinate Forest is the starting point for white-water rafting in the Bavarian Alps, skydiving from plans taking off at the nearby military airfield, or excursions to Poland or the Czech Republic. But families also have a wide range of activities to choose from at the site itself, which offers a tree-to-tree rope course and a climbing hall. The low reception building featuring a restaurant and a covered-over terrace is the heart of the facility.
In typology terms the architect Karlheinz Beer and his team members Gina Lankes, Katharina Lay and Alexander Würner came up with a pavilion-type development related to the topography of the site, whereby they set the climbing hall aside from the rest of the buildings with a design of its own. As the highest element in the ensemble the climbing hall is also its identity-engendering highlight, yet despite its height the building is integrated into its context thanks to the silhouette formed by its traditional gabled roof. While its wood shingle façade lends it a character of its own, the climbing hall nevertheless forms a coherent part of the ensemble made up of boarded flat buildings.
Wood underscores the idea of living in nature not only on the outer skins but also on interior surfaces, softening the starkness of the exposed concrete elements typical of military buildings.
The shingle façade of the climbing hall and the boarding on the flat buildings quote the traditional handicrafts of the region while exuding an atmosphere of informality.
By doing without large glass panes, the climbing hall blends in with the natural scenery yet has enough indoor daylight thanks to its high windows and the long skylight in the sloping roof.
The holiday homes themselves are scattered among the trees like the log cabins of the early American settlers. Sanitary units and storage buildings complement the camping ground that is also part of the facility.
Characterised by a reticent architectural idiom, the Outdoor Recreation Center in Grafenwöhr is a unique facility with informal, nature-related buildings and external spaces that embody an experiential education approach for soldiers. The current military escalation in the crisis regions of the world suggests that this concept will find numerous successors. But maybe the military recreation centre will become a normal leisure facility for tourists one day – the architecture would be ideal. As John Lennon sang back in 1971: "Imagine ... all the people living life in peace...". That was the year before a large part of the Bavarian Forest became Germany's first national park.
Client: Administration of Oberpfalz, U.S. Army