"These lines represent a whole skyscraper" - Süddeutsche Zeitung, Feuilleton, 18./19.10.2014

Tower of Thoughts

The architect Wolf D. Prix reveals how he designed the European Central Bank.

These lines represent a whole skyscraper. Here the architect Wolf D. Prix reveals how he  designed the European Central Bank – one of the most spectacular buildings of our age.

The Austrian architecture studio Coop Himmelb(l)au spent months working on its submission when it competed for the new construction of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt. The staff built numerous models, experimented with the spatial design and performed studies for its exterior shape. But then came the moment when everyone sat down at a large table with Wolf D. Prix in Vienna. During the meeting, he sketched the drawing that would change everything and bring his studio the commission for one of the most important buildings of the decade – without corrections, with a firm hand, and with the finished building already in mind: “I’m more of a Mozart than a Beethoven when it comes to the notation of things. Mozart had his finished works in mind and while he set them down on paper, he was already composing new ones.”

What was created in that sketch in those ten minutes symbolizes power. It doesn’t resemble any other highrise in the world. “Only with a new geometry can buildings develop a presence,” Prix says. The 71-year-old Austrian is one of the best known architects of our time, but also one of the greatest rebels of his craft (photo: MANFRED KLIMEK). Before he was able to build anything at all, he was spreading his furious quotes: “Architecture must burn,” was one of them. His designs, however, were considered simply unbuildable. It would take decades for such dynamic buildings as the BMW World in Munich to follow.

Now he is giving the European Central Bank a skyscraper that looks like the dramatic boxing match between two prisms (PHOTO: MARC-STEFFEN UNGER). Instead of just stacking the same floorplans on top of each other as most of the highrise architects around the world are doing, Prix – in that moment at the table in Vienna – split a massive tower with a curved incision and then twisted both halves by 180 degrees. Now they are standing back to back in Frankfurt with the historic Grossmarkthalle in their center. This turns the architectural monument into an arena for the battle between the two towers. They are breaking through the Grossmarkthalle designed by the architect Martin Elsaesser, an icon of new construction. This is exactly where the guests of the ECB will be greeted in the future.

Neither of the two new towers could stand on its own. Only together can they give each other support. The interweaving creates the necessary stability but is also meant to enable an exchange between the two parts. It will soon be clear whether this will affect the work in the building. After four years of construction, the ECB is virtually finished.

“The building is a three-dimensional statement for Europe,” Prix says. That was exactly why the architect wanted to design it. The battle around a shared currency now has a new address: the glazed twin towers of the ECB in East Frankfurt. The architecture is like an exclamation mark. This makes the building so spectacular but also so political. Because if the European Union has lacked anything so far, it was this: a clearly visible sign. Now this is standing directly on the Main river, 202 meters high.                  

Laura Weissmüller