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Taking flight: Drawing on the grace and dynamism of the sport itself, this precisely engineered new ski jump was constructed in a very tight timescale to replace an existing outdated structure.

Invented and popularized by the Norwegians (particularly the ruling Swedish royal family, whose passion for the sport established its credentials in the late nineteenth century), ski-jumping combines balletic poise and death-defying spectacle. Such lyricism tends to be less evident in actual ski-jump structures, typified by their resemblance to hulking oversized slides. Pahl + Weber-Pahl's new ski jump at Willingen in Germany's mountainous Hochsauerland region is a surprisingly elegant response to an inherently pragmatic programme compounded by a very tight construction schedule.

A traditional winter sports resort, Willingen has, over the years, established itself as a venue for World Cup skiing and ski-jumping. Its existing ski jump, however, was unable to cope with increasing technical demands and spectator numbers. It was decided to demolish it and build a new structure all within the space of a year, between annual World Cup competitions. This left a very tight construction period of only four months.

The structure consists of three elements: a slender access tower clad in thin timber slats, a vertiginous glazed warm-up pod, and the ski jump ramp itself, its geometry dictated by the sport's regulations concerning safe jumping trajectories and distances. These were clarified on site with the help of a full-sized model of the actual track along the gradient. All the structural elements, including the balustrades, are placed at right angles to the ramp, achieving formal consistency. The lightness and simplicity of the steel structure emphasizes the sweeping, dynamic curve of the ramp.

The ramp is made up of a U-shaped steel trough 2.7m wide. Across the inside of the trough, stiffener plates are welded to precast concrete inlays with thermal insulation, waterproofing and fixing points for the 300mm thick snow cover. Cantilevered sections attached to the outside of the trough support technical equipment and an acrylic wind diffuser. Steps on both sides of the ramp are bolt-fixed to the trough. The ramp widens at the top to accommodate access areas for jumpers, officials and camera crews.

The ramp is supported by tubular steel masts, ranging in diameter from 190 to 350mm. Their joints rotate along the hill's longitudinal axis, but are very stiff in cross axis to reduce vibration, The ramp was prefabricated in sections, craned onto the columns and then rigidly fixed to the access tower by means of a bridge link which braces and strengthens the structure. The tower is glazed on the side facing the valley, so that spectators can see the skiers ascending to take flight.

Drenched in moody blue light after dark, the two-storey glazed pod at the top of the ramp resembles a flying saucer hovering over the hill. The lower storey is constructed like a ship's hull with steel internal ribs. Above, a grid of beams supports the glazed eyrie of the warm-up room. Cladding mullions carry the lightweight broad-brimmed roof. In its graceful form and precisely engineered structure, the ski jump emulates the drama and daring of the sport itself.
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Author:Kugel, Claudia
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:490
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