It’s official: US investor Hines will go ahead with a Frank Gehry design and build Germany’s tallest residential tower smack in the middle of Alexanderplatz. At the same time, an old master plan is to be revived. What to make of all this?
Gehry’s tower will rise to the right of the Saturn electronics store, across the street from the GDR-era “Haus des Reisens” (with the Sharp advertisement on its top) – here is a rendering
First off, I’m no huge fan of Gehry’s buildings such as his apartment tower here in New York. His deconstructivist style seems a bit out of place on Alexanderplatz, especially in this corner which is dominated by the modernist “Haus des Lehrers” across the street.
My personal taste notwithstanding, the design will undoubtedly increase the architectural value of the vicinity, especially given recent blunders such as the Alexa shopping centre and the temporary-looking Saturn electronics store.
I have written about it on this blog before, and my main problem with this building activity on Alexanderplatz remains the shocking lack of coordination. While there is a plan dating back to the early nineties, reality has caught up with it in so many ways that it has become hopelessly obsolete.
Many of the buildings slated for destruction back then have been modernised. New buildings have joined them, often with questionable architecture and even more questionable use.
Politicians want to ask the architect Kollhoff – the one who had won the competition twenty years ago – to update his plan, which was based on twelve skyscrapers exceeding 150 meters. Strangely, Gehry’s tower will be erected in parallel, seemingly unaffected by the outcome of the plan revision (something the Greens rightly lament).
The urban planning problems on Alexanderplatz are manifold. While Kollhoff’s nineties plan included tunnels as well as narrowed streets to make the area more accessible to pedestrians, nothing toward that end has happened.
Streets take up way too much space as the following photo shows (it’s shot one block north of Alexanderplatz):
At the same time, new shopping centres were approved such as the eyesore Alexa along the train tracks. Suburbanisation in Berlin’s heart – that’s decidedly not what Alexanderplatz needed!
But the trend does not stop here. A new Primark clothing store is slated to open in the summer. It fits well into the “cheap is good” mentality of German retailing. Right next to the station, “Alea 101” will host other big chains (including another electronics market).
The announcement that the Hines tower with Gehry’s design will at least lead to a resurrection of the Kollhoff plan is good news. Since its original inception in the early nineties, Alexanderplatz’s “organic” development has been unworthy of the space’s central position in Berlin’s geography as well as its history.
I just wonder who would want to buy prime residential real estate on a square whose urban planning process has been so sorely neglected.