Re-inventing the residential tower block
14. September 2018 | Words: Bettina Krause
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds
New York, Dubai, Tokyo, London – residential tower blocks have long defined the skyline of many a major city. With housing in increasingly short supply and cities becoming more congested as a result, this is a form of building that, in Germany too, is steadily gaining in relevance. Residential tower blocks have acquired a fresh allure in recent years. Homes with breath-taking views are all the rage, especially amongst well-off citizens who set store by top-notch fitments and generous ground plans. So, are German cities now likewise set to grow upwards?
“We are currently witnessing a kind of renaissance of residential tower blocks emblematic of extremely high-quality living”, says Florian Schlüter of Meixner Schlüter Wendt Architects in Frankfurt. As the architect goes on to elucidate, “The tendency to dismiss residential tower blocks as being synonymous with housing for the masses, a function they often did serve in the 1960s and 1970s, is undergoing reappraisal. This crucially involves moving away from such 1970s’ buildings, embracing standards of the highest order and nurturing a culture of customised living”. Said approach has been lent palpable form by the Henninger Tower that Meixner Schlüter Wendt Architects completed last year in Frankfurt am Main. The “emotional monument”, as the practice labels the tower, took shape on the site of a grain silo 390 feet high that was demolished in 2013. “The original structure was innovative in its own age and figured centrally in the minds of the people of Frankfurt”, Schlüter explains. “We strove to both retain and transform its visual identity.”
At 455 feet high, the tower is one of the tallest residential blocks in Germany, apartment floorspace costing between 427 and 864 euros per square foot. “We paid particular attention to how the exterior space was cultivated”, Schlüter adds. For, as Schlüter puts it, using features such as loggias, balconies and conservatories to forge tangible links with the urban environment makes tower blocks attractive places to live in. “The biggest difference to residential tower blocks from the past is to be found in the public areas. These need to boast qualities conducive to the free flow of civic life. Playing a pivotal role here”, the architect declares, “is an entrance hall complete with concierge that is proving to be a vibrant meeting place in our experience.” Schlüter also expects the residential tower block as such to evolve positively henceforth: “This type of residence will continue to gain in popularity”, Schlüter avers. “Several such projects are currently being built in Frankfurt, whilst other German municipalities are sure to follow suit sooner or later – with Frankfurt’s now cherished skyline clearly playing a pioneering role.”
Frankfurt’s example is beginning to be taken up by cities with less distinctive skylines. On Adenauerallee in Hamburg, for instance, Störmer Murphy and Partners (Hamburg) are building a tower 179 feet high with 113 units of accommodation on 17 floors. It is surrounded by edifices up to 290 feet and more high, but also by far lower structures. Key to the design remit was a wish to harmoniously blend the building in with its urban context in terms of both height, materiality and colour. The increasing benevolence with which residential tower blocks are being viewed is due, as Holger Jaedicke of Störmer Murphy and Partners sees it, to their having “shed the image of sprawling council estates in favour of bespoke top-notch housing in organic inner-city locations”. With people once again wishing to live in cities, demand for this type of building has generally risen. Moves by policy-makers to enhance the appeal of residential tower blocks for developers and investors have also proved beneficial – virtually nothing but office space had previously been going up. Hence, what was once a little-loved form of architecture is now becoming a valued piece of urban fabric.
Quite unlike the homogeneity of Hamburg, the 422-foot-high “Norra Tornen” currently being completed by OMA (Rotterdam) and Oscar Properties (Stockholm) in Stockholm loom well clear of their surroundings. The twin towers are actually a mix of slab and tower and accordingly marry features of two typologies that architects would normally argue should be “kept well apart”. The boxy, cascade-like structures, whose cubage was prescribed by the planners, eschew overly rigid symmetries by dint of the planners having incorporated additional horizontal features into their design. 180 apartments are being created in this future “gateway to the city”, whose monumentality is utterly intentional.
The cities of Europe are shooting upwards at any rate – some in a conspicuously rough-and-ready manner with a pinch of eastern block charm, others in a more exclusive, harmonious vein with classily fashioned public areas and external spaces – and in the process pointing up alternative means of getting to grips with housing problems in conurbations. A further type of residential tower block, the 195-foot-high “Wildspitze” being built wholly in timber by Störmer Murphy and Partners, reveal just how varied the options are. Projects such as these combine sustainability with attractive locations and, as well as affording perfect views, also possibly point the way for the future of housing construction in general.