How is architecture taught in Germany

Architecture and society"Success is when people feel comfortable in the buildings"

As a child, Gerber was able to watch construction sites for hours, later he helped in the village carpenter's shop. He comes from a pastor's family in Thuringia, where money was tight. He built rabbit halls and beehouses in the garden at an early age because the family with six children had to support themselves. Gerber financed his studies as a jazz trumpeter in clubs. For his dream of studying, however, the pastor's son from Thuringia had to leave the GDR. In Berlin he took the tram west. Under the name "Werkgemeinschaft 66", Eckhard Gerber started out as a freelance architect in Meschede with a two-man office.

Today the renowned architecture office has 190 employees. In addition to the Dortmund location, there were others in Berlin, Hamburg, Riyadh and Shanghai. The now 80-year-old Dortmund architect and the staff in his office build internationally with many awards. “These are always the simple, clear things that shape a person.” Eckhard Gerber is still fascinated by practical building with responsibility to this day.



Jochen Rack: Mr. Gerber, as an architect you have helped shape architecture in Germany for 50 years - especially public architecture, one could say - because you have realized a great number of buildings for the public sector: various university buildings, the Landesfunkhaus in Magdeburg, the new trade fair in Karlsruhe, to name just a few. But you have also built for private clients, for example high-rise buildings in Dortmund and, this decade, some representative buildings abroad, especially in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. If you look back over the 50 years you have been working as an architect and think about it, what are the main aesthetic trends that have changed in these 50 years to the present?

Eckhard Gerber: Yes ... Basically, it is always the same issues that concern us. And the processing of these topics and tasks happens at different times, and of course the zeitgeist changes over time. As an architect you have to see that you can feel this zeitgeist beforehand, about the things that are planned, which will only become reality in five years or sometimes even later, so that they will correspond to the modern age. That does not mean that you are fashionable with the times, but that you really track down the zeitgeist in order to prove yourself, to make architecture in 50 years' time.

Former Federal Minister of Economics Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) in conversation with the architect Eckhard Gerber (Bernd von Jutrczenka / dpa)

Rack: Now we're going to take a concrete look at these times or these epochs or decades that have passed. So, when we look today at architecture from the 1960s or 1970s, we often get the impression that this is relatively primitive box architecture, in many cases a lot of concrete is used, the facades are not very open, in many cases it is perceived as ugly. Is that an observation you would share?

Tanner: Well, the so-called brutalism - i.e. the concrete buildings - was like that in the 60s and 70s, during that time we also built things such as a primary school in Lippstadt, which was entirely concrete, it was concrete on the inside, concrete on the outside , all beautiful exposed concrete with board formwork and then with beautiful colored fixtures. And they were built in constructive lightweight concrete and actually already anticipated what is desired again today in terms of energy.

"The car-friendly city is not a city where you can feel comfortable as a person"

Rack: But from the aesthetic point of view: Well, we go to our city centers, there are often these department stores, mostly block-like buildings with closed facades. I think of Karstadt buildings, Kaufhof buildings, those things. One has the impression that there was a lot of pounding. So even if we look to Dortmund, such a large building has been thrown off in the center, a bank building, we often perceive this type of architecture as no longer contemporary, repulsive or maybe even ugly.

Tanner: Well, that's a whole topic of how cities were rebuilt after the war. And there was a decision to either rebuild the old floor plan, as happened in Münster or Lübeck, or a decision to make it into a modern city, in quotation marks, for example from Dortmund. And that was a bit tragic, because it will then become the so-called car-friendly city and actually the entire floor plan and the scale of this city has been lost. And then of course it is also very difficult to use new buildings to regain what character a city once had. And the car-friendly city is just not a city where you can feel comfortable as a person, because it has a completely different standard. We have been the same size for centuries, millennia, we also move at the same speed when we are running or running or perhaps have been on horseback. But with the beginning of the car everything changed completely, suddenly we experienced a completely different speed of movement - and that breaks the human scale of urban space. That is actually the main problem that these cities also have today, the battered roads for cars. And of course that also means that large buildings have been built. That also has to do with the economic development, these big department stores, they can't have the same standard that such a city had. Then you would just have these facades, you could simply have built apartments in front of them in order to make these large buildings on a small scale. But you didn't, you just made some kind of grid façade, and all of them were actually not aesthetically successful at all.

"Postmodernism has practically opened up many possibilities for us"

Rack: I would say ugly, that's what you could call it. But what should happen to this architecture now? Then there were some counter-movements against this brutalist architecture, such as postmodernism, which tried to loosen up these closed structures in some way, perhaps also this modernist architecture. How did you perceive this movement and how did it influence you in the way you build?

Tanner: I have already observed postmodernism very closely, and there was such a key experience that I had when we took part in the competition for the Parc de La Villette in Paris, where suddenly a postmodern design had won the landscape design concept, and it was a complete departure from the actual English garden previously imagined. That was a great concept and I was thrilled and fascinated by it. Tschumi planned it back then and then built it, and today you can also see the city library that it is wonderful. And postmodernism has practically opened up many possibilities for us, namely to be able to work with completely different forms again. So on the one hand to build axially, on the other hand also circles and squares and triangles and to reintroduce these things - and thus to make ourselves freer as architects than in the pressure we had from the 60s to the 70s.

"We did not use quotes that are typical of postmodernism"

Rack: But if I understand you correctly, if you look at the buildings that you have realized yourself, then it is not postmodern architecture, but an architecture that is very clearly structured, that sets very simple, minimalist forms that are not big ones Gimmicks are allowed that also use pillars, but not in the sense that they are set in any way, as a quotation, but functionally.

Tanner: Yes, we always did. We did not use quotes that are typical of postmodernism. We didn't do that. We have already continued to follow our line, but we were more open to thinking differently about concepts, i.e. overall concepts. Back then, for example, in the 1970s and 1980s, we built the town hall in Hagen in a wonderful old quarry. A large oval with 60 meter high rock walls, and the building should then be built into the quarry, we didn't do that. We put it outside in front of it or put it in front of it and used the quarry as a rock garden and then built something completely glassy to these stones, something very filigree. And the landscape is drawn into the building, which was actually unthinkable until then. But these freedoms are basically what postmodernism made possible for us.

Rack: By shattering the canon that prevailed before, if you will.

Tanner: Yes.

"Maybe it's an inner longing of mine, this opening into the landscape"

Rack: And now you have already mentioned an important point that I believe is very central to your aesthetics, namely the transparency, the opening of the building towards the landscape. Because if you look at the buildings that you have realized, then they are actually always such that they do not close themselves off from the environment, but rather that they consciously open into this environment. I would very much like to talk to you about how you came to decide in favor of this type of communicative architecture.

Tanner: That wasn't a decision at all, it just happened. All of our projects are competitions in which we have participated and which we have won, and which we have won every now and then. And we couldn't choose which competition to win, we won one or the other. And these projects were more of a coincidence, which we then received as a planning assignment. And in retrospect, I realized that there were very, very many projects that had this link between building and landscape. So maybe it's somehow an inner longing of mine to build this opening into the landscape and the connection to the landscape. That may be related to my Thuringian past, I grew up in the village and in the forest and in a beautiful landscape, maybe that was the decisive factor.

Rack: Biographically, that would make sense, but you can also say that the zeitgeist may have played into your hands, because this opening to the landscape, this awareness of nature too, is integrated into the human architecture, that's something that the In the wake of the ecological movement in the 1980s, I believe, awareness came much more strongly that this opposition to nature is actually a form of human consciousness that is not very sustainable.

Tanner: Well, of course you are subject to such currents and the zeitgeist, and many things may then also take place in the subconscious, even for the architect, not everything we do is aware of that. And this confrontation with the landscape actually began with us in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And that may also have something to do with the fact that I got a professorship at the University of Essen - and that was the training for architects and landscape architects. And I also dealt with the basics of design for landscape architects and, of course, brought the architects and landscape architects together and said: When you do something, you always have to do it together, because when you deal with architecture, you automatically get involved too with open spaces and landscape. And that's basically a unit, that's how I always kept it, so that in our office, too, we plan architecture and landscape planning in one unit.

"Our greatest success as architects is when people feel comfortable in our buildings"

Rack: And there is now an important term that perhaps characterizes this form of building and this form of architecture that you have implemented, that is the concept of atmosphere. I think you use it yourself when describing the buildings. And this term is also, as I have noticed, a term that played a certain role in philosophy, especially in the natural philosophy of the 80s and 90s. So there are books by Gernot Böhme, where the atmosphere is suddenly remembered as an important category for human perception. Well, there is somehow correspondence about the fact that atmospheres are obviously very important for people.

Tanner: Well, the atmosphere has many facets, especially in architecture. And on the one hand that is conceptual, it has something to do with the connection between building and landscape, for example, but of course also the question of materiality, spatiality and so on. But of course, Mr. Rack, the atmosphere is actually what has to be created if you want to make good architecture, because it should touch people, and people should like to be there in the rooms we build, and not just in the interiors, but also in the rooms that then arise in the city with these buildings. That is the most important thing, and I always say that our greatest success as architects is when people feel comfortable in our buildings and, for example at a Volksbank, when many customers and new customers register because they like the house, then it is a success for us as architects - and also a very economic success for the client, insofar as architecture and economy are very closely related.

Rack: But would you say that in the light of these sustainability and ecological considerations, other materials that have been neglected at this time have also returned to architecture?

Tanner: Yes, but it started with postmodernism that we could work with more and different materials. And I actually always kept it that way that we provided our buildings with these materials that were correct in terms of regionalist construction: in the Münsterland or up on the Baltic Sea, more brick buildings, and if you work in the Sauerland, more like slate cladding and such similar things. Although concrete is coming back today as a very light, heat-insulating concrete. And if you want to build completely ecologically now, then build a 70 or 80 centimeter thick concrete wall without any thermal insulation. And these are actually these beautiful, old, thick walls that you had in the old houses, which are actually very, very meaningful climatically for our region.

Architecture and sustainability

Rack: What about the energy balance of the houses, the buildings that you have built, because they are often very transparent and there is a lot of glass on the outside. Were those considerations that were at the top of the list of priorities 20 years ago, as we actually say today, energy-saving houses, that is actually what we want?

Tanner: That wasn't such a big topic back then, it only came with these ideas of so-called sustainability and energy efficiency, that has only been an issue for 15 or 20 years. And unfortunately we didn't have the materials for the glass yet - this highly heat-insulating glass that is available today. Today it is no longer such a big problem.

Rack: If you take a look at this thermal insulation ideology, you can say: It often leads to our houses not necessarily becoming more beautiful, but rather they put on such thick fur, which is then somehow pasted up if you mainly put on them thinks the smaller houses. Is it actually a mistake that we now only go towards energy neutrality or energy saving and actually think about the aesthetic side of what these houses look like ... We could also talk about solar panels, which in many cases have completely ruined the roof landscape in my opinion. How do you observe it when you drive through the country like this?

Tanner: Of course, these thermal insulation armor is not a good way to create decent architecture, especially if you subsequently clad older houses with it, and things get really bad. It may work with newly planned buildings, but we don't like to use it because ... It's the cheapest way to build, and I don't know how sustainable it will be in the end after 20, 30, 40 years.But today, as far as sustainability and energy efficiency are concerned, there are just these other possibilities that we can build rather thick walls and thus completely do without thermal insulation, and these walls and rooms that are created there are climatically much, much better.

"The computer cannot design"

Rack: If you think about these lines that have influenced architecture in the last few decades, what role does computer design actually play? I believe that today it is possible to design houses that architects could not have built at all before computer technology came up, because the calculations of the statics et cetera would probably not have worked at all.

Tanner: Well, first of all, the computer can't design, at least not yet. He cannot develop correct, intelligent concepts. For us it is still an aid to this day, but it is an excellent aid. For us it was a quantum leap in planning. And just because the plan that we drew earlier is, unlike today, not a calculated plan, today the plan that comes from the computer is an arithmetic unit. And we can do any route that we haven't measured and drawn beforehand, that results and that can be measured out. This is a quantum leap, also in terms of communicating plans over thousands of kilometers, it takes minutes, it is amazing what is possible there. On the other hand, we can of course make very complicated and very complex designs and shapes with the computer that we could hardly have thought in our heads before. The computer can do that, it's wonderful. And we have some designs that would have been inconceivable without the computer.

"We dealt with the deconstruction, but never built something like that"

Rack: Now, as far as I interpret it correctly, you have not been so inspired by this gimmick that you have gone in the direction of deconstructivist architecture, but if you look at the buildings that you have built, then they actually are very clear, very clearly structured. There are a few basic geometric shapes - square, triangle, circle - that are very clearly laid out. So from my point of view, a very elegant modernism, but by no means a kind of chaotic deconstruction, as we, what do I know, see that in the Bilbao Art Museum or the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris - buildings that look as if someone was there something completely crazy thought up, and you can actually only hold it statically at all on the computer, otherwise it would somehow collapse like a house of cards.

Tanner: Well, the term deconstruction says it all. So it is just not a good construction and it is against the actual construction and also against the physics, which we cannot change. The buildings are still standing on the ground and, of course, it is still best to divert forces - from a high-rise building, for example - vertically into the ground. And as soon as you tilt the skyscraper or make it crooked and so on, there are problems. These can be solved today, and perhaps especially with the computer, but of course the big question - and that is a question of the individual architect's attitude - is what one would like. We've dealt with deconstruction, but we've never built anything like that. Of course you also have to differentiate ...

Rack: Because you don't like it?

Tanner: I do not like it. Of course, you also have to differentiate: You have just mentioned the three basic shapes - square, triangle, circle - but you can of course derive the freely kinked from the triangle and also from the circle, the geometric circle, the freely curved. And there are these five shapes, namely three geometric and two free shapes, either bent or rounded. And we also work with such forms.

Rack: How would you then characterize your own aesthetic? Is it still a trend that also belongs to functionalism, where one said "form follows function". Is it belonging to the modern age, maybe also to the second modernity? How would you describe yourself at all?

Tanner: Well, Mr. Rack, I would say both and. We don't leave one thing to do something else, we just try to link things up. Of course we use the freedom that has been given to us, and that brings me back to postmodernism, where everything has been opened up to us. And there are architects who work and have worked in a very special language and whose buildings are based on a very small section of design principles. Mario Botta, for example, is one of them, he usually builds with rather closed cubes, and you actually recognize the language immediately, you know from afar, this is Mario Botta or that is a Richard Meier. This is one group of architects, the other group of architects, who does not include itself in such a small part of the diverse design principles and possibilities, but uses all of them. And we belong to this group too. Herzog & de Meuron is one of them, for example, or Renzo Piano and so on. They always develop a completely new concept, they are always amazed that they have invented something new because they also work with new design principles. And I taught that for 26 years, design and drafting, and dealt with it very intensively, which was of course good for the students, but also for me, because I actually did a self-study with it as a development for my office.

"You can't find anything new if you don't just try the wrong thing."

Rack: Is that then also a conscious rejection of the principle of the avant-garde, because the avant-garde wanted to appear as a new style, but in opposition, with a downright destructive attitude towards what was previously.

Tanner: Avant-garde is usually something, something is done that is actually wrong. You can't find anything new if you don't just try the wrong thing, I think that's the principle. And deconstructivism is actually more from classical architecture, let's start with the Greeks, it's actually something wrong. And that is now a trend from some colleagues, but it won't last long and will go on for generations, I don't think so.

Rack: If you should ever characterize the aesthetic mood in relation to the architecture in Germany, there are a few examples from recent times where some historical things have been reconstructed, for example now the Frankfurt Old Town or the Berlin Palace, but also earlier already the Dresden Frauenkirche. One could deduce from this that there is perhaps a certain longing for shapes from the past. Is that a correct observation, how open are people to new things?

Tanner: Not so open. I can understand that too, this desire for the old, because the past, the past was always more beautiful, that's actually the case with every person.

Rack: It's nostalgia.

Tanner: Yes, yes, he forgets the bad things from back then and only keeps the nice things, that's kind of a good survival strategy. It's similar in architecture, and I can understand that too. For example, with the beginning of the Frauenkirche, I fully understood and thought it was good and supported the fact that it was rebuilt, because as an architect, of course, I am of the opinion that the original is not the building itself, but the plan . And I can build the plan again - and above all in the same place, that's the right thing to do. That is why the Frauenkirche was always right and correct, because the inner function is the same - it is a church and a concert hall. It's a little different with the Berlin Palace, we no longer have a king. And to that extent the interior is no longer a lock and can no longer be used as such. So it was all a bit difficult with the Berlin Palace. But that the volume, this urban space volume, as it was, also with its visual language and with its beautiful facades of the Schlüter from the baroque period, that this has been put aside again, because it brings the old cityscape to an end again, namely with the museum from the Schinkel and the cathedral, that's wonderful. And I think that when you come from Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate, the castle is at an angle to Unter den Linden and practically closes this axis. It's a wonderful urban development situation, and I think it's absolutely right that it has been restored. I always said it, I also took part in the competition for the Berlin Palace back then, but I wasn't successful, but that's the way it is with competitions, and I think it's great that it has been rebuilt.

"We are now building six high-rise buildings in China"

Rack: What about the appreciation of high-rise buildings? In Germany, unlike in America, we don't actually have a very intensive tradition, except for Frankfurt as the city, where many high-rise buildings stand next to each other, you actually don't find that many. There are some defensive attitudes towards high-rise buildings, in Munich there was a so-called referendum that limited the height of the high-rise buildings to 100 meters. Now, for example, another tower is to be built in Munich or two towers by Herzog & de Meuron, which should be up to 155 meters high, we do not yet know how civil society will react to whether there may be a new referendum or whether there will be a new referendum have changed attitudes. You built skyscrapers yourself, two of which come to mind in Dortmund, the skyscraper for ...

Tanner: We are now building six in China.

Rack: They're building six in China. I believe they built the Harenberg high-rise in Dortmund. It's not very high, but 20 stories high, and the RWE Tower. So how do you rate the mood?

Tanner: Most of us, you and me too, we know New York. And that is a fantastic city, Manhattan, that has a fascination, this addition of the skyscrapers. And the more there are in a city, or if the city actually consists of high-rise buildings, as in New York, the greater the fascination. This is also the case in Frankfurt because Frankfurt is the only German city that has such a density of high-rise buildings in the center. And that also has a great fascination for me, I have to say. The individual skyscraper in a city now does not have this fascination easily, and a skyscraper does not fit everywhere, nor does a skyscraper in every city. It actually only gets a little more exciting when several high-rise buildings stand next to each other. And we once had this Sparkasse high-rise in Dortmund, then the IWO high-rise, and then we had the Harenberg high-rise practically within reach and compositionally, and then added the RWE-Tower as well. And I have always said that what we have in Dortmund is a very small piece of Manhattan. You could organize even more, but you can't have them everywhere in Germany.

Rack: Now, at the end of our conversation, I want to include this term of residential density in order to ask you what you think of the Düsseldorf Declaration on Urban Building Law, which has recently been published. So some experts have spoken out on the question of how planning law in Germany is to be changed in the future so that in some cases denser city quarters can also emerge, so that this separation - the functional separation, which we also spoke of, between living, Work, leisure, culture, et cetera - so that this separation can be broken. The criticism is to say that there are too many regulations that actually prevent business from taking place in the city, because there are too many noise regulations, too many density caps. What do you think of this declaration, is it the right approach to bring our cities back to life?

Tanner: That is absolutely the right approach. I have a couple of things, for example, that this separation between public space and private open space does not necessarily always have to take place entirely, it can also somehow merge into one another in parts. But otherwise all of this is correct. The Düsseldorf Declaration is actually nothing more than the demand that the things that have been defined in the Leipzig Charter now also be implemented in terms of building law.

"Mixing different functions is correct"

Rack: To explain this briefly: The Leipzig Charter meant that the cities should be built as sustainable, beautiful and mixed cities in the European tradition.

Tanner: That is also correct, but the Düsseldorf Declaration actually cemented it again that it should now be stipulated under building law that these things will also be possible. So the mixing of different functions is correct, as is the complexity of the planning, so that everyone involved has to get together, i.e. town planners, architects and landscape architects and of course the residents too, that is all correct.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.