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German Architecture Reimagined in 2019

Date: 16 January 2019

As Germany celebrates the Bauhaus Centennial in 2019, contemporary architects such as Ole Scheeren have reimagined German architecture, casting off stereotypes that German architecture is austere and utilitarian. 

Walter Gropius, the architect who founded the Bauhaus School in Weimar in 1919, adhered to the tenet that form follows function. In practice, that meant the style of architecture reflected its purpose. 

In Ole Sheeren’s TED talk “Why great architecture should tell a story,” he denounced the design adage. “For much of the past century, architecture was under the spell of a famous doctrine. ‘Form follows function’ had become modernity's ambitious manifesto and detrimental straitjacket, as it liberated architecture from the decorative, but condemned it to utilitarian rigour and restrained purpose,” he said. 

Sheeren, the principal of Büro Ole Scheeren Group - with offices in Berlin, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, advocates that form should follow fiction—and by fiction he means the stories of people who live and work in the buildings. Scheeren’s visually stunning, inventive buildings such as Singapore’s Interlace—31 apartment blocks, each six storeys tall, stacked in a hexagonal arrangement around eight idyllic courtyards that encourage human interaction and community—proved that German architecture firms can successfully compete on the international stage. 

An increasing number of German architecture firms compete internationally 

“German architecture is notorious for being far more practical and pragmatic than being design focused, but this is changing,” said Jo-Pearce, Head of Architecture at LVI Associates.  “German architects and construction companies are trying to change opinions and there is a real desire to design and build eye-catching buildings. This is demonstrated by the huge increase in architecture firms getting involved in international competitions.” 

Although there is a trend to restore old-school German architecture, such as the restoration of the old city centre or “the Altstadt” of Frankfurt which was destroyed during World War II, there is also a trend to build ultra-modern, innovative urban developments such as HafenCity in Hamburg.  

“The shift within the German market is seeing companies employ design-orientated architects to focus on infrastructure projects,” said Pearce. “Germany as a country is trying to break the stereotype of being the flagship nation of grey boring design within the building and infrastructure sector. Projects such as the Hamburg underground station is a prime example of the new direction Germany is looking to take with their design identity.” 

HafenCity development attracts international investment 

The opening of visually spectacular Elbbrücken Underground station in December 2018 was a significant milestone in the development HafenCity. Its ellipsoidal arch profile has been created by crossing arched steel frames that form a diamond-shaped grid pattern. 

Now visitors to HafenCity can get off at the station and see the burgeoning HafenCity vista from the platform at the Elbe River. HafenCity has attracted international investment and is regarded as a 21st-century urban experiment. 

Demand from construction companies increases architect job openings

“Larger construction companies are developing their design departments within urban planning and architecture, so they are able to influence design” explained Pearce. “Although the investors and government want more design-orientated projects, those constructing the project want to ensure they maintain profitability. As I result, the demand from construction companies for architects has seen a huge increase in the last six to twelve months.” 

Opportunities will abound during the Bauhaus centennial and Germany will honour its past but continue to evolve—and architects will find an increasing number of openings with design-build firms. “What this will mean for the projects ideally is a world where they are completed within budget and on time but still having form as well as function,” said Hayes. 

Alex Hayes, Managing principle at LVI Associates, adds; “This is so exciting for German architecture and really brings them into the 21st Century. At LVI we are working with the companies and the candidates that are at the forefront of this change and innovation. If there are any architects or engineers in Germany that want to be part of this revolution, they should definitely speak to one of our consultants.”