Background: Architecture in Germany

Architecture in Germany

Art Museum Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus,
Photo: Marlies KrossIn the twentieth century, Germany, the land of poets and thinkers, was also the land of architects. And it exported its revolutionary architecture, the Neues Bauen of the twenties, Neue Sachlichkeit and functionalism.

Along with the Swiss architect, Le Corbusier, the teachers of Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, and also Bruno Taut and Erich Mendelsohn, had a major influence on the International Style, which, via America, conquered the world.

Influences from around the world

When at the end of the century the architects began to take their leave of a modernism that had become monotonous, engaging once again in vibrant, decorative construction, Germany for its part welcomed influences from around the world.

The great masters of post-modernism, James Stirling of London, Hans Hollein of Vienna, Rob Krier of Luxembourg, Arata Isozaki of Tokyo, Richard Meier of New York and many others were invited to build in Germany. The Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) in 1987 in particular brought all the stars of architecture to Berlin, thereby inspiring German architects as well. Thus, the still-divided German capital city became the meeting point for aficionados of architecture from all around the world, leaving other metropoles far behind as far as architecture is concerned.
What foreign architects admire more than anything else in Germany is the quality of construction technology: nowhere else do they build more lastingly or more solidly, even if the strict building regulations are sometimes seen as a hindrance to free design.

Federal Chancellery with Chillida sculpture “Berlin”,
Copyright: Bundesbildstelle/Bernd KühlerAfter 1990, following reunification, when the aim was to rebuild the infrastructure in the former GDR and to make Berlin a capital and a metropolis once more, its cosmopolitan attitude paid off once again. Lord Norman Foster converted the former Reichstag into the new German parliament. Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Moneo, Helmut Jahn and others came to the city and their buildings gave it international flair. The German architects, Stephan Braunfels, von Gerkan Marg and Partners, Hans Kollhoff and Josef Paul Kleihues made their contribution to the new capital. The Federal Chancellery, built by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank, is a symbol of the new German architecture, which, after 50 years of modesty after the Second World War, has now regained its self-confidence. Their expressive, unmistakable architecture meanwhile is probably just as familiar to television viewers around the world as the White House in Washington.

Multifarious scene

Literature Museum Marbach,
Copyright: Valentin Wormbs, StuttgartThe architecture scene in Germany takes many forms, and while the capital is a focal point, there are many regional centres and different trends on account of the country’s federalist system. The chambers of architects, the official body representing the profession, and the free associations of architects are also organised on a federal level. Ten universities and a few dozen universities of applied sciences and academies are training 20,000 architecture students. The German Architecture Museum is not in Berlin, but in Frankfurt am Main, and is competing withthe museum of architecture in Munich.

Though architectural fashions may change quickly, with attention in recent years focused at times in Austria, Holland, Los Angeles, London or Basel, landmark buildings of international regard, designed by star international architects, have recently appeared in Germany, too, like the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg and BMW factory building in Leipzig, both designed by Zaha Hadid, Ben van Berkel's epochal Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, the impressive BMW World in Munich by Coop Himmelb(l)au, Peter Zumthor's contemplative art museum of the archbishopric of Cologne, Kolumba, or David Chipperfield's magnificent literature museum in Marbach.

German architects have also scored highly with their global-format buildings: Gottfried Böhm with his theatre in Potsdam, Claus Anderhalten with the Cottbus Art Museum, Sauerbruch Hutton with the Federal Environment Agency in Dessau and gmp with the Central Rail Station in Berlin. More important even than these highlights, however, is the quality of everyday architecture which, year after year, is evident in the competitions for over fifty architectural awards in Germany.

Green architecture

„Wooden House E3“, Cop: Kaden Klingbeil ArchitektenOne important development, in fact probably the most important development in contemporary architecture is being driven forward in Germany more than anywhere else: eco-design, with research being conducted into sustainable ways of building with renewable and recyclable raw materials, into thermal insulation and regenerative energies for the building industry. These days, electricity is being generated on a grand scale using photovoltaic cells on solar panels, heat is extracted using highly efficient thermal pumps from the sun's rays, from the earth, and by means of earth probes from the groundwater. Houses are already being built which boast not only zero energy consumption, but in fact are “energy plus houses” which feed solar power back into the mains network in the form of electricity.

New woodworking methods and sophisticated building techniques are making wood – a raw material which is both renewable and climate-neutral – competitive and are helping avoid energy-intensive and ecologically harmful construction. Wood is used to build energy plus houses, and even seven-storey apartment blocks in inner cities, industrial buildings and sports centres.

The German building industry is currently a leader on this promising path into the future, and is recording more and more export business, particularly in the Persian Gulf, China and the USA. As such, Germany continues to be an important centre for global architecture, and is well worth a visit in many different respects.
Professor Falk Jaeger
is an architecture historian and critic.

Translation of the revised parts: Chris Cave

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2003
Revised June 2008

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