Looking ahead – The art of designing modern city concepts
How should the city of the future look? This question, which is so central to society, is now the subject of a dedicated series that will create a forum for different perspectives, approaches and opinions. To start off, we are talking to the architect and urban planner Professor Christoph Mäckler about aesthetics, individuality and the question of whether the wheel really does have to be completely reinvented.
Because in my opinion we no longer have any decent urban development in Germany. Urban planners mainly work on urban land use planning and architects on their buildings. The idea was to revive the urban context for architecture and planning. Society expects to have public spaces, streets, squares and parks that we enjoy living and spending time in. Today we mainly create “in-between spaces” without becoming aware of the quality of a square or street. So that we can discuss decision-making and also the issues concerned, we initiated the Düsseldorf Conference. This is where, for the last ten years, government, town planning councilors, heads of planning offices, architects, urban planners and academics have been coming together for discussions.
The Stuttgart Consensus came about by bringing together virtually all the bodies concerned with urban development in Germany under the leadership of the Munich city planning councilor Professor Elisabeth Merk. From the German Association of Cities to the German Academy for Urban and Regional Planning (DASL) and the Association of German Architects (BDA). In this constellation, we worked our way, so to speak, through the Düsseldorf Declaration so as to arrive at a consensus that we will be giving to government. A consensus requires compromises, which means that some of the demands of the Düsseldorf Declaration have been changed. One of the really big divergences was, for example, over the question of how dense a city can be. There are density ceilings in the Building Utilization Ordinance, which mean that we no longer build towns, but instead build housing to a greater or lesser extent on the urban fringes.
We should not always think we have to reinvent the wheel. I’m actually just waiting for someone to proclaim the Corona City, which would be truly absurd. Even the Smart City is absurd. Because first of all, we need urban spaces in which society feels at home. In Europe, we already have a long history of urban development, and it has actually always taken place in largely the same form: with public spaces, squares, parks, streets and with private areas, and also with a social and functional mix. Urban development that designs the urban space with beautiful street façades so that people like to spend time there and that also has a certain density so that many people can live there and such a district really works. Despite all the theories about how the city of the future should be, you can also simply look at what people actually prefer. For example, by looking at land and property prices. Then you can see clearly which are the most popular neighborhoods – you find yourself immediately in the city of the Wilhelminian era. It is not our new housing estates either that are being gentrified, but the quarters built in the Wilhelminian period. That doesn’t mean that we should now only build old houses. Rather, it means that we must learn to take things from these principles of classical European urban planning, apply them in the present day and adapt them to the needs of our society. We are doing this, for example, in the new Römerhof quarter initiated by Frankfurt’s head of planning Mike Josef.
I don’t see that at all. I do think that architects have to look a bit closer to understand that their buildings precisely aren’t intuitively conceived works of art. We have a social mission and when we put a building in a place, it must first and foremost complement the buildings in that place and not conflict with the location. Building in Hamburg differs from that in Munich or Paris. A new office building has been put up in Berlin, for example – crumpled and in blue glass – that shows no consideration for its surroundings. The mirror glass alone is hostile and cold, and the body of this building makes the human being feel so small that one wonders about what happened to the social element. Shouldn’t we build much more for the human being?
Most definitely. I believe that this planning could be a model for all urban quarters or new development, because Frankfurt’s politicians have really given thought to it. Careful consideration has been given to what uses are required, for example, in the center between the cathedral and the Römer. In this case, a mixed urban quarter with housing, workplaces and shops. There was a design statute, a design advisory board, a special committee to which any citizen of the city could turn, and finally an architectural competition. In addition, there was a separate municipal corporation that oversaw and accelerated the planning process. This body was subject to political control with a supervisory board consisting of the Lord Mayor, the head of the planning department and representatives of each party on the municipal council. The design advisory board advised, but this political body took the decisions. This intensity of the process and the scrutiny by such a political body is something that we urgently need to mobilize for the development of new neighborhoods.
“There are density ceilings ... which mean that we no longer build towns, but instead build housing more or less on the urban fringe.”
At the beginning there were critical voices, although these have since all fallen silent. The neighborhood enjoys a high standing in the population. This simply has to do with the fact that the houses have beautiful street façades and fit together wonderfully – among the 35 houses there are 20 new buildings, not only reconstructed half-timbered houses. When you sit there, it’s simply fun – you don’t have to travel to Tuscany any more. I repeat: I am not a house builder, but if we can learn anything from this quarter, it is that the public doesn’t care what the houses look like inside, and this is only of interest to the people who live there. But the public space, the alleys and squares that have been created there are very popular. Well beyond Frankfurt.