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European Central Bank HQ in Frankfurt

August 12, 2012

Not so long ago, when talking about economy was pretty much the same as talking about industrial production, Germany was usually called the “locomotive of Europe”. Today, although the German economy is still leading in the old continent, this say seems definitely outdated. Is the locomotive transforming into receiver?

Being in Frankfurt at the end of June I had the chance to visit its most spectacular buildings site, the new HQ of the European Central Bank. In a time when a single word coming from a board member of this institute can make a European State bankrupt, understandably there is no much talk about its almost finished 185.000sqm office building.  Certainly in 2003, when the international design competition was won by Coop Himmelblau, nobody could predict the sequence of earthquakes that would have shaken the global financial world, cancelling some of their biggest players. Maybe nowadays the choice would go to a more sober and less optimistic solution, or even to the re-use of existing office spaces. Anyway 2014 the building will be ready to be occupied and the ECB will move from the tiny Eurotower into the new huge complex. For sure it will become an icon among European institutions and everyone will see it everyday on the media. But what is most interesting for me is the effect that it will produce on this part of Frankfurt.

As a matter of fact this was, and is still today, a part of the city left aside, the Ostend. Characterised by the Grossmarkthalle, the largest food market in the region, and by the Main river harbour Osthafen, this was naturally a worker’s neighborhood, without major urban qualities or focus points. Since the arbour and the food market were dismissed the situation became even worst and also the local train station, the Ostbahnhof, was closed. Needless to say this was not by any chance a preferred location by any economic activities or urban developments.

Things began to change in the early 90es, when the area of the old slaughterhouse on the other side of the river was redeveloped into a high quality residential areas. The decision to locate such a prominent institution like the ECB on the 120.000sqm formerly occupied by the Grossmarkthalle with its imposing bricks halls, went in the same direction and it will be utmost interesting to see what the long term urban developments effects will be. Today not any kind of ongoing fertilisation nor gentrification is noticeable yet.

Thanks to my friend Christoph for taking me there for a nice walk.

I still wonder whether the car had a problem or it was just in no parking zone.

There are some new residential developments, yet there is still a lot to be done to comply with German standards.

Normally architects like buildings at this stage, more than when they are finished. When behind the shell you can see bones, muscles and veins of the building, geometries are clearer, there is a flair of handcrafts and industry and you can complete the building with your imagination how you prefer. I must say that in this case I was not excited at all by this unfinished building. The size is impressive, but not enough to make any other architectural aspects irrelevant. The two twisting skyscrapers are heavy dancers, the skin is not bright enough, the relationship with the existing low rise building not evident yet. In the mind of the architects that was different, I hope it will in the final result.

Some parts of the Grossmarkthalle have been naturally demolished, but others should become among the most remarkable features of the new building complex. On the background the skyline of Frankfurt’s city. I think it is a wise decision to have the seat of such a delicate institution away from the city, where it is now, away from the other private banks. Hopefully it will reflect and strengthen the  independent position of the ECB.

I really like trucks and mobile platforms like this, even if they are not as big as this one.

The best view on the building site and around is from the iron railway and pedestrian bridge. Here is when the say about the locomotive came back to my mind. Next to this bridge a new one will be laid soon.

A nice view over the river bank on the former slaughterhouse area, with its urban villas.

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