Germany is Shining!

A few years ago, the BJP, a political party in India, ran on the slogan "India is shining‘.  Then I guess India stopped shining, since the BJP got creamed in the election. 

But Germany is still shining.  With shiny new buildings, that is.  The signature of recent German architecture is clinically voluptuous brushed steel and glass, with a weightless-looking design that creates lots of open space and light. I’m sure these buildings have been made possible by ultra-cool recent advances in building fabrication techniques, but unfortunately I can’t tell you what those might be. 

One of my hometown favorites is the Duesseldorf Airport, which was rebuilt in the late 1990s after a most regrettable  incident (G).  Soaring arc-shaped columns, endless expanses of glass inside and out, and an entrance hall that manages to be inviting and monumental.  Since you can see the entire entrance hall from almost any point within it, there’s no way to get lost. 

The Stadttor ("city gate") office building is also a gem: it seems to float like an elegant ocean liner of local enterprise:


I wasn’t too impressed with the new Berlin Central Station, since it’s basically a gigantic shopping mall, and there are plenty of those where I come from.  However, I granted it some grudging respect when I alighted from the subway platform deep underground and realized that you could look all the way to the canopy above the top platforms, hundreds of meters above.  The local and long-distance trains all criss-cross within the station itself, on tracks that seem to float.  A bit like those movies with futuristic "spaceports" with ranks of hovering landing pads.

The latest wonder is BMW-Welt, or "BMW-World":


This crystalline chrysalis just received this rave from the IHT’s architecture critic:

I feared that the building itself – a luxury showroom that could double as a theme park for car fetishists – would be a monument to excess. But then the glittering forms of the BMW Welt building appeared, and immediately rekindled my faith in architecture’s future.

Set against a backdrop of hulking factory sheds and 1970s office towers, the building weaves together the detritus of a postwar industrial landscape, imbuing it with a more inclusive spirit. Its undulating steel forms, suggesting the magical qualities of liquid mercury, may be the closest yet that architecture has come to alchemy.

Designed by Wolf Prix of the Vienna-based architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, BMW Welt – or BMW World – joins an impressive list of high-profile architecture projects by German car companies in recent years, including Zaha Hadid’s BMW factory in Leipzig and UNStudio’s Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

Whether from a passion for well-built machines or a more self-serving interest in architecture’s ability to promote an aura of technological sophistication, the auto companies are underwriting buildings that combine a stunning level of structural refinement with a flair for formal experimentation.

Slideshow here.  [h/t bro.].  I’m no architecture critic, but I know what I like.  Unlike gigantic slabs of concrete from the 1970s, I can see these buildings aging well.  They might look dated in 20 years, but they’s still be crisp and elegant and exhilarating. May dozens more of them get built.

10 thoughts on “Germany is Shining!

  1. Hallo,
    your first example is not the state legislature building, but the Stadttor, an office block right next to it. The Stadttor houses the Staatskanzlei, i.e. the top of the executive branch.
    It would be nice if you could correct this in the main article.


  2. BTW the advances aren’t new. As you sorta point out with the reference to 1990’s era Duesseldorf Airport which was presumably designed before then. Berlin became a popular place for glass construction after 89. I blame I.M. Pei. The newly (at that time) constructed potsdammer platz has a lot of glass too. And one final note, almsot all trainstations are also malls, which you have to admit is more practical than building them miles outside of town. At least you have an environmentally friendly way of reaching them.


  3. @Andrew
    > Berlin Central Station […] you could look all the way to
    > the canopy above the top platforms, hundreds of meters above

    Er, we don’t have many skyscrapers that high in town–or any, really–, much less train stations. Even with platforms deep underground, they didn’t drill down to the antipodes, presumably. Seemingly, even grudging respect can get you carried away. Next time, try the Fernsehturm’s lift shaft – with due caution, that is.

    Thinking again, you quite likely fell for a trap. On hideous Postdamer Platz architects tried their best to convey metropolitan grandeur by using trompe l’oeil perspectives wherever applicable.


  4. @Chris Miner
    > almost all trainstations are also malls, which you have to admit is more practical
    > than building them miles outside of town. At least you have an environmentally
    > friendly way of reaching them

    I hail this fine example of plain and sane thinking. Not that I fancy mall mania much or at all, but the Hauptbahnhof makes as much lemonade as you can get of mad Mehdorn‘s lemon. btw: doesn’t our railways’ CEO vaguely look like the older James Cagney? He’s short, stout and impulsive, with a friendly bulldog’s snout. He might no be likeable, but his mug never fails to make me smile.


  5. …wait, dammit – where’s the Turks, when you need them? Can’t seem to wedge’em in, here. Um, …Hauptbahnhof? Should I mention the one in Munich, as does the NYT, or other places, where neither sun nor fatherland do shine? Nah. Ein Feuilleton schreiben heißt auf einer Glatze Locken drehen. So, let’s curl locks on bald heads. Nichts zu danken.

    On a technical note: I had to split the post in four, as it was marked as spam. Typepad promised a review by the author, but I might not pass.


  6. I’ll have one more word on this, if I may: Here‘s a video of the week-long Cologne demo – blockade, Allahu Akbar chanting, the works. While TV is all to happy reporting colourful folklore when it happens in Paris, London or Peshawar, it keeps conspicuously mum when the joyride is closer to home. As one Mohammed tells the bystanders: “Ihr hier seid alt, Euer Leben ist bald zu Ende. Es geht um die Jugend, die hier leben will.“[1] Righto. Have a native soundbite. Let’s assume that happy slapping was suspended, when the cell phone’s owner was busy paying due respect.

    You are old, your life will soon be over. It’s about the young ones, who want to live here.


  7. Marek, there is indeed something on the drawing board, yet at the moment I’m preoccupied with things more important than dealing with wingnut Kreuzberg snowboarders. But rest assured, I won’t forget you.


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