Kardinal Schulte Haus
Preserving the spirit of the place
  • Location
    Bensberg
  • Project
    Refurbishment and conversion of a listed conference hotel
  • Client
    Archbishopric of Cologne
  • Architect of record
    Caspar Schmitz-Morkramer
  • Planning and construction period
    2011–2015
  • Service phases
    1–9
  • Gross floor area (AG/BG)
    15,600/3,900 m²
  • Photos
    Stefan Schilling
  • This project is from the joint period of meyerschmitzmorkramer.

The Kardinal Schulte Haus (Cardinal Schulte House) is one of the largest ecclesiastical conference centers in Germany. Originally built in 1924 as a seminary with architecture by Bernhard Rotterdam, the four-winged complex sits atop a green hill on the outskirts of Bensberg, offering a sense of seclusion. Throughout its existence, it has served various purposes, including as a military hospital during World War II, later housing the Thomas Morus Academy, and functioning as a retirement home. In the early 1980s, a fire caused significant damage, prompting the church to undertake extensive repairs and transform the building into a conference center. In 2010, the archdiocese tasked us with a comprehensive refurbishment of the listed building that involved re-evaluating the uses within the listed building. The goal was not only to address material concerns but also to preserve the spirit of the building. Grounded in the site’s context, we developed an integrated use and design concept for the Tageszentrum des Erzbistrums Köln (Conference Center of the Archdiocese of Cologne), adapting it to contemporary needs with our own architectural language. The refurbishment measures were carried out parallel to daily operations.

Respectful Restructuring

While preserving the distinctive appearance of this historical monument, we reorganized its three primary functions (hotel with dining, meeting rooms, and conference venue) to enhance navigation within the building and improve operational efficiency. The building now features 160 hotel rooms and approximately 2,000 square meters of conference space spread across four floors, totaling 15,600 square meters of gross floor area.
The four-winged complex encloses a stately courtyard lined with mature magnolia trees; at its center the Edith Stein Chapel, built in the 1980s. In collaboration with studio grüngrau (formerly FSWLA), we developed a serene courtyard landscape that prioritizes guest comfort, embodying a sense of inward reflection. Guests enter the Kardinal Schulte Haus axially through the west wing portal, following a central access corridor into the spacious reception foyer, where the surrounding ground-floor cloister opens up. With its original cross vaults and pastel-colored stained glass windows looking onto the central courtyard, the cloister has historically been more than just a circulation zone. Now, its double-width space in the west wing invites guests to linger with lounge seating.

Mindful Minimalism

Throughout the building, our approach focused on complementing the historical architectural elements with a select range of high-quality natural materials tailored to our design aesthetic, including light-colored wall surfaces, natural stone or parquet floors, and oak fixtures employed consistently throughout the space. We employed a combination of natural and artificial lighting to create distinct zones and establish atmospheres suited to their respective functions. We aimed to maintain an almost monastic simplicity – not austerity – even in the hotel rooms. Stripping them to their structural shell, we created bright and inviting spaces with a comfortable climate year-round. The wooden furniture was custom produced to our designs, as were the finely color-coordinated textiles.
For meetings and conferences, the hotel offers four spacious halls and 20 additional rooms in varying sizes and configurations. The K1 conference hall, with its double-story height, provides an exceptional spatial, almost sacral, experience. Depending on seating arrangements, it can accommodate events for up to 280 people. Another crucial aspect of the refurbishment was modernizing building services to improve efficiency, sustainability, and considerably more comfort within the historic walls.

Project team