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Das Neue Frankfurt

August 24, 2012

Another walk in Frankfurt to visit some architectural and urban highlights. Starting with the most recent one, the new residential developments along the river (Westhafen), passing by a masonry brick kindergarten from the early 90es (KITA 124 Bernhard Grzimek Allee, designed by Hans Kollhoff and Helga Timmerman) back to Bornheim to one of the famous Ernst May’s Siedlungen (Am Bornheimer Hang 1926-30) and the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, celebrated theater for performing arts housed in the administrative building of a former soap and parfum factory, since 1988.

A steel glass cylindrical highrise (Westhafentower designed by Schneider+Schumaker) marks the access to the Westhafen, the old city commercial harbour transformed into an upper class residential and office quarter.

The concept is quite similar to the one of the former slaughterhouse, urban villas with generous balconies in decent variations of shapes and colours.  The relationship with water is what makes the difference, although at first glance the potential of the inner basin does not seem to be fully exploited.

White plaster, red bricks, large balconies, french windows and glazed penthouses are what the wealthy german like to live in. An elegant and solid environment without luxurious or eccentric solutions.   

The view of the city from the other side of the river offers a rather ordinary skyline where highrises are well balanced by water and trees. 

Walking to Westbahnhof to take the tram back to Bornheim I enjoy the widespread and solid quality of public realm.

The inside of this old train station is a strange mix between a church and a swimming pool, but it works well.

On my way to Bornheim I recognise a building I visited several years ago, as it still was under construction. It is the Kita 124 in Ostend, one of the many new kindergartens built in Frankurt in the last 2 decades. In this case the project is by Hans Kollhoff and Helga Timmerman, featuring hand made dark bricks wall cladding that remind industrial architecture of the past. The whole building is rather closed to the street, more open and terraced towards the south oriented court used as playground. A beautiful building!

The title of this post is stolen from the housing program promoted in Frankfurt by Oberbuergermeister Ludwig Landmann between 1925 and 1930. In that period City Architect Ernst May was head of a team planning and realising some 12.000 housing units using the most advanced industrial processes, but also keeping a remarkable human scale with immediate contact with nature, urban infrastructure and public space . The Siedlungen (residential settlements) built in that period became immediately an icon of Modern architecture and were thoroughly documented and promoted by the famous architectural journal bearing the same name during the same period (1926-1931).

The first impact with this Siedlung is provided by the Church, a public building with the (maybe too obvious) task of delivering a landmark to the new settlement.

Right across the street the settlement borders with an open landscape of public gardens and small family gardens (Scherebergarten) and invaluable resource both for leisure time and for homegrown vegetables. 

The facades look brand new and I guess the buildings became a new insulating layer and new windows in recent times, to comply with the strict energy saving norms.  

The buildings do not offer many stimulations in terms of details, materials and colours, on the contrary they are rather monotonous. The quality of this settlement is in urban design: proportions and relationship between public (street and pavement, parks, etc), semipublic (private garden, backyards) and private spaces.

Borders are clear, but also friendly and permeable. It is evident that urban culture and collective behaviour makes the public realm work and be even aesthetically appreciable. Should the residents lose their sense of ownership and the public administration stop taking good care of the infrastructure also this neighbourhood would rapidly become a degraded area, like many others social housing deprived neighbourhoods all over Europe.

By the way it is worth noting that here parking is free, which is quite incredible for a city like Frankfurt. The good quality of public transport and responsible citizens behaviour makes restrictive regulations not necessary.

I have always been impressed by these warning signs that appeal to anything but our conscience. Judging from the graphic design they are there since decades, unchanged and effective! Even when I am in my homeland or elsewhere, thinking about crossing a street by red light, this warining comes to my mind (more or less it says ‘Crossing only by green light as a good example for kids’).  

From the white modern architecture back to the traditional (Gruenderzeit) architecture of the Westend.  

Here is another highlight of Bornheim, the Mousonturm, a former industrial building refurbished as a theater, famous for contemporary dance performances and music concerts. The bricks and terraced shape reminds me the Kita 124 (see above).

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