Like Amsterdam with its developments along the IJ, Frankfurt is modernising the Main riverbanks. On either side of the river a boulevard stretches with trees, lawns and benches between a number of bridges. From these bridges the Frankfurt skyline is a very intriguing sight. A large percentage of the banking sector of this financial hub is housed in these towers. Adjacent to the high-rises are church spires and many ugly modern buildings which regretfully, but necessarily, were built after the destructive bombing in 1945.
The Main river flows on from this skyline and curves to the East where your eye is drawn to the lonely silhouette of the paired towers of the European Central Bank (ECB). An immense sculpture, this landmark connects the eastern city with the centre. A lonely, but majestic, balancing act with the many towered central skyline.
More of a work of art than just a building, the ECB rises out of the Grossmarkthalle, the former wholesale vegetable and fruit market, designed by Martin-Elsässer and built in 1928. The architects from Coop Himmelb(l)au won the tender for the design of the new ECB-building after a long bidding process which started back in 2002. The building itself was officially opened 13 years later in 2015. At the Deutsche ArchitekturMuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt a large number of models were put on display recently which show how the shaping of this project took place, from initial design to eventual realisation, and why this fine tuning took so many years to complete.
Included in the building’s terms of reference were the wish to be 30% more energy efficient than required by the city laws at the time, and to leave the Grossmarkthalle reasonably intact and within the sightline from the river. Another requirement was that the basement area would remain a fitting memorial to commemorate the prisoners held captive here before being transported to their deaths in concentration camps during the Nazi era. I wrote about that in an earlier post here.
The architects have done a great job. The result is two, slightly twisted, towers attached to each other, erupting from the structure of the Grossmarkthalle.The building reflects the mood of the weather, greying on a rainy day and reflecting bright blue with drifting clouds in sunny skies.
Walking into the ECB gives the feeling of being in a futuristic train station. The huge central entrance hall, and the spacey exchange platforms on higher floors, allow employees to interchange between the north and the south tower and to meet each other for some business, a refreshment and a chat in the process. The ECB has a number of sustainable concepts integrated into the final building, including geothermal heating and cooling, use of rainwater and re-use of heat generated in the server area for the heating system. Read more about it here. The cellars have indeed been kept intact as a memorial to the dark past.