In Praise of Frankfurt Pavilion: The Martin Elsaesser Plaque

In News by Porter Anderson

The five-year-old structure for political and cultural presentations has been listed among works representing ‘Excellent Architecture in Hessen.’

The Frankfurt Pavilion in use for an event during the 2022 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FMB, Dominic Driessen

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Literature Needs Good Places’
Frankfurt Pavilion—once derided as a “giant broken Mentos” by a Frankfurt wag on the Agora—has become an award-winner for Frankfurter Buchmesse, attracting the Martin Elsaesser plaque for its innovative and distinctive design.

As part of a program titled Large Houses, Small Houses: Excellent Architecture in Hessen, 2018 to 2023, the structure is being recognized in Frankfurt’s 75th year by the Association of German Architects BDA Hessen.

In its statement of rationale, the jury speaks of Frankfurt Pavilion’s “astonishingly simple and at the same time clever joining of three shell-shaped bodies in a wooden ribbed construction.”

You can see what the jury is referring to in this image from the 2018 introductory images of the pavilion, which was designed by the winner of a competition, the firm Schneider + Schumacher. Since its original appearance, the pavilion has been part of the Frankfurt scene in all but the 2020 “digital year” of programming and the 2021 “little Frankfurt” event that marked a limited return of the world’s largest book publishing trade show to the pandemic-era scene.

In this aerial design rendition created by the architectural firm Schneider + Schumacher, you can see the three-wing structure and its white-transluscent outer skin. Curtains frequently are used at each entrance to help control breezes and noise. Image: FBM

Re-established for the 2022 Frankfurter Buchmesse, the space has grown on many of the Frankfurt faithful, particularly with its warm-wood interior, a welcome and mildly rustic contrast at times to the steel-and-glass exteriors of the Messe halls surrounding it.

Frankfurt Pavilion is a space of 500 square meters (5,380 square feet), standing 6.5 (21 feet, 4 inches) tall, and self-supporting. It’s made largely of wood and covered with its trademark translucent skin on which the fair’s messaging frequently changes from year to year.

Surprisingly, for the lightweight nature of its cover, the building manages to shield a good bit of the noise of the Agora from those engaging in trade-fair programming in the interior. Wear too hard a heel and move quickly, however, and you’ll discover that the flooring can be noisy. Many trade visitors find themselves tiptoeing from their seats to an exit when having to dash off to meetings.

Here, you can see some of the images of the pavilion’s development at Schneider + Schumacher’s site. And in terms of sustainability, you learn from the firm that the structure—which to the layman’s eye seems to use blonde wood very liberally—actually was designed “to use only as much wood as is statically and spatially required.”

Frankfurt Pavilion in use during Frankfurter Buchmesse 2019. Image: FGM, Marc Jacquemin

In a comment from Buchmesse’s organizers on the news of the award, Lars Birken-Bertsch–head of cooperations and programs–is quoted, saying, “It’s a real honor for us to receive this recognition for the iconic Frankfurt Pavilion.

“‘Literature needs good places’ was our guiding idea here. The firm of Schneider + Schumacher and Frankfurter Buchmesse as the client opted for this flying structure with a self-supporting wooden construction and with sustainability utmost in our minds.

“The Martin Elsaesser plaque confirms that we’ll continue to invest courageously in new buildings and stands in the future.”

Indeed, the structure has fulfilled the role the company had in mind for it in 2018, when Birken-Bertsch said, “We want to create a really special atmosphere for dialogue and networking between our fair visitors–a central stage for publishing professionals and lovers of literature from around the world. With the pavilion, we’re laying the foundations for greater visibility of content and authors in Frankfurt.”

‘Books Only Reveal What Is Inside When You Look Closely’

Inside Frankfurt Pavilion during a 2022 event. Image: FBM, Dominic Driessen

Frankfurt Pavilion has housed large audiences for opening press conferences and intensely debated issues, as well as for smaller, more intimate readings, and receptions for tired trade visitors in the late afternoons at the fair. Prior to this latest honor, the pavilion has drawn additional recognitions including:

  • Design Educates Awards 2021, Honorable mention
  • AIT Award, Finalist
  • DAM Award 2019, Nomination
  • Iconic Awards 2019
  • GEPLANT + AUSGEFÜHRT, 2nd place
  • International Design Awards, Gold
  • Gute Gestaltung 19, Bronze

And in the firm’s notes from 2018 for the building’s creation, we read from Kai Otto and Till Schneider something of the “aha” factor that still greets trade visitors as they arrive for speeches and panel discussions at Frankfurt Pavilion:

“Books only reveal what is inside when you look closely. But then, in the best-case scenario, they will cast a spell over you right away … That’s exactly the image we had in mind when we designed the pavilion.

“A cocoon that opens up into an atmospheric and multimedia space. In the center of the fair, a significant and inviting place for togetherness around books is being created.”

Here’s a time-lapse video that shows Frankfurt Pavilion being erected in Messe Frankfurt’s Agora:

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on world publishing’s international trade shows and book fairs is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.