Jourdan & Müller PAS - Prof. Jochem Jourdan - Interview about Tall Buildings in Frankfurt - Skyscraper Development Plans

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Urban Developments in Frankfurt: Between Past and Future

Interview with Architect and Urban Planner Prof. Jochem Jourdan

A city like Frankfurt doesn’t develop in a random way. The major urban development projects in Germany, such as the development of the European District, are subject to master plans, land-use plans, and development plans. In particular, the master plans for urban development were driven by the enormous economic rise of Frankfurt in the last 50 years, and are each used for certain city districts and subject areas. The development of new office building locations in particular used to be arbitrary and chaotic in the past, which led to conflicts in established city quarters.

With regard to new high-rise locations, the high-rise development plans in particular led to more planning security through the preparation of the later formal planning. On behalf of the City of Frankfurt, the architectural office Jourdan & Müller PAS presented the first high-rise development plan in 1997/1998 and a revised version later. One of the key people behind these plans is Prof. Dipl. Ing. Jochem Jourdan, who founded the office in 1970.

Jochem Jourdan is an honorary member of the BDA (Bund Deutscher Architekten, a professional association of architects in Germany) and is one of the most prominent architects in Germany today. His most important works in Frankfurt include the state central bank on Taunusanlage, the House at the Cathedral (in German Haus am Turm), the House Goldene Waage in the New Old Town and the redesign of the Gerbermühle.

Professor Jochem Jourdan - Jourdan & Müller Steinhauser Architekten

Prof. Jochem Jourdan

Jourdan & Mueller PAS Architekten in Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt Skyscraper Development Plan 2008 - Jourdan Müller PAS Architekten - City of Frankfurt - 2008
Urban Entertainment Center - UEC Frankfurt - Tall Buildings Model
Jochem Jourdan explaining an urban model

From the interview:

  • Multi-stage competitions increase the quality of architecture
  • High-rise building for Frankfurt’s double theater is conceivable
  • Tender criteria for the new high-rise plan cause criticism

SKYLINE ATLAS: Hello Professor Jourdan. Your name is particularly familiar to people when it comes to high-rise development plans in Frankfurt. Please explain to our readers what an urban development plan is and why large cities use this instrument.

Jochem Jourdan: A high-rise development plan deals with planning the locations of high-rise buildings. A city always has different possibilities and these locations have to be examined more closely for their potential. What number of floors can you have, how is it connected to the traffic, is there a subway connection nearby and so on. Is there a risk of shading or is there a problem that the microclimate is affected? Or whether a high-rise is preventing the area from getting fresh air. All of these such questions are discussed here and then incorporated into a high-rise plan for a location.

Professor Jochem Jourdan - architect and city planner in Frankfurt - in front of drawings for the Haus zur Goldenen Waage, the most famouse building in Frankfurt's New Old Town

SKYLINE ATLAS met Jochem Jourdan in his studio. Here he stands in front of the plans for the Haus zur Goldenen Waage, the famous building in the New Old Town, which he and his office designed based on old models.

SKYLINE ATLAS: How did the development plans for high-rise buildings come into play?

Jochem Jourdan: As early as the 1920s, when tall buildings for large cities were being discussed in Germany at all, Frankfurt began to deal with such building types. At that time Martin Elsaesser was working in Frankfurt. He made various designs e.g. for a large town hall. Also his buildings, some of which he carried out here. When we think of the wholesale market hall, the buildings have a storey height that is as high as high-rise buildings were estimated at that time. Max Taut’s house, which he built for the union back then, was also considered a high-rise at the time. And so the first high-rise buildings for Frankfurt were discussed in the 1920s. One that still stands today is the Mousonturm.

After the Second World War, the high-rise discussion began very early; if you look at the results, you found the first high-rise buildings in the competitions for the Frankfurt Transport Plan right after 1945. A first high-rise plan was then drawn up very quickly, but it focused in particular on the Wallanlagen at that time. When we carried out our first high-rise study in 1998, we found that, as a rule, new framework plans for Frankfurt were developed every eight to ten years, because that is always a period that can represent a new need.

And so, from the 1950s onwards, different framework plans have been presented, each with different goals, sometimes also from a very formal point of view. At that time, the prevailing opinion was that high-rise buildings should be placed somewhere like a gate in the urban space. Or you wanted to build towers in a row. The problem with this is that you can barely perceive such a line of skyscrapers in the urban space. High-rise buildings have a long-distance effect and are particularly noticeable in the cityscape. It is therefore more important to pay attention to the long-distance effect of high-rise buildings in the city skyline.

Frankfurt city center was wiped out by WW2 bombings

Frankfurt after the Second World War

SKYLINE ATLAS: Professor Jourdan, how did you come up with the high-rise master plan in 1998 with your Jourdan & Müller PAS office?

Jochem Jourdan: We were asked in 1997 by the Head of Planning, Dr. Wentz, to develop a new high-rise study. That was the starting point for this planning.

Our office then put together a collection of materials in this plan and we looked at what the history of the high-rise buildings in Frankfurt looks like and of course we were able to draw on a wide variety of bases, including the large study by Mr. Müller-Raemisch, but also others.

In 1998, we gave a short version of the history of the high-rise development in Frankfurt. This story showed that basically every eight to ten years new skyscraper plans were created, because each time there was a new need and you could also assess the need. In particular, one of the big issues has been how to use high-rise development plans to help contain speculation.

Professor Jochem Jourdan - architecture interview Frankfurt

SKYLINE ATLAS: And how exactly did you want to contain speculation?

Jochem Jourdan: The problem were the house fights in Frankfurt in the 1970s, when the big disputes over many properties in Frankfurt took place. At that time, no precise locations had been determined where new high-rise buildings were allowed, and this began the possibility of speculating on certain properties. With our high-rise plan from 1998 onwards, we always wanted to limit this risk as much as possible and have therefore suggested high-rise locations where we also always included the urban environment. We not only said you can build a high-rise here, we also asked:

  • What problems arise in the shade from the high-rise building?
  • What problems arise from influencing the microclimate?
  • Are these locations properly connected in terms of traffic?
  • What height can you build?
  • What happens to the ground floor?
  • What is happening in the spire?

We presented and discussed all such questions.

SKYLINE ATLAS: How was that in the past? How did new locations get into the skyscraper master plan?

Jochem Jourdan: All locations were always discussed with the city planning office and the planning department. Political parties have also had their say. There were meetings where these concepts were presented and discussed, and the locations are of course always needs-based. Of course, you always have to see the question in the context of its respective epoch. There were times when the growth of cities was discussed, the focus was on the development of office workplaces, and so on. Then the term urbanity through density came up. This led to people thinking about high-rise buildings in new ways.

Jochem Jourdan - Jourdan & Müller PAS Architekten

SKYLINE ATLAS: There are quite a few buildings from the 1950s and 1960s in Downtown Frankfurt. What is your opinion? Should these buildings be preserved in general, should they be rethought?

Jochem Jourdan: When you discuss a building, and if you see it as a monument, you have to explain the reasons why you consider it a monument. That can be the artistic, architectural quality. That can be the story. That can be the meaning for the city in the city silhouette. And so there are many reasons a building can become a monument. That can be the age value among equals. And of course all of these reasons have to be taken into account when evaluating buildings from the 1950s. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your question.

SKYLINE ATLAS: How were requests in relation to the high-rise plan made to you? Did everything always go through the city planning office?

Jochem Jourdan: The requests were always addressed to us via the city planning office, never in direct conversation. But we were then asked to deal with the wishes. For example, we have dealt with different clients or the different locations, have discussions with individual banks or insurance companies or other clients, for example, to clarify what they have in mind and the like. And the locations emerged from all these considerations and discussions.

Highrise Master Plan Frankfurt 1998

The 1998 high-rise development plan by Jourdan & Müller PAS (today Jourdan & Müller Steinhauser Architekten)

SKYLINE ATLAS: In the past, it was repeatedly criticized that certain high-rise locations were not included in a high-rise master plan and were actually implemented later. What are the reasons for this?

Jochem Jourdan: When we worked out the first advance planning in our office in 1998, there were already agreements between the city and the owners of these locations for the possibility of building a high-rise there. That is why there was a phase after 1998 when a number of these locations, which were already defined at the time, were developed. With our plan, we have given an overview of the locations for which planning rights already existed. We were accused that the locations proposed in 1998 had not been developed for a long time.

When we came up with the next plan, we found that essentially more locations had been developed, including all the locations that had previously been given planning rights plus some locations that we then proposed.

And if we look at the field of locations from 1998 and 2008 today, one can see that most of the locations have meanwhile been planned, have been partially built, are under construction or are prepared with a building permit to the point that they can soon be implemented .

Basically, one can say that there is now a new need for high-rise locations. A city like Frankfurt must always have options for the construction of smaller high-rise buildings, but also for locations where the goal is to require more space.

SKYLINE ATLAS: What do you think are predestined areas where high-rise buildings could be developed in Frankfurt?

Jochem Jourdan: We made the suggestion not to distribute high-rise buildings in the city because then basically the difficulty is to narrow down. Instead, we have always suggested developing so-called clusters, i.e. groups of high-rise buildings, as locations. And I think that I have done it very well, as it has shown over the past 20 years. Basically, all of the proposed groups were created, except for the apron at the main train station. When we worked on the original plan in 1998, the city had the idea that the main station would be tunneled under and one of a dead end station would become a through station. Interestingly enough, this is now being discussed again in a modified way.

At that time, some of the locations that we had planned in the station area fell victim to this concept, and they were then no longer considered or continued. But if you now look at the federal government’s new traffic planning, which is again thinking about tunneling under the city of Frankfurt, this may well mean that certain areas in the run-up to the main train station will become available again and the old discussion must be revived. But you can only really say that if you know the exact goals and ideas for these tracks.

2008 Skyscraper Development Plan Frankfurt

The city model of the 2008 high-rise development plan is located in the atrium of the city planning office.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Did Frankfurt 21, the tunnel under the main train station, fail because of Stuttgart 21?

Jochem Jourdan: No, that has nothing to do with it, it was simply a precautionary measure taken by the state of Hesse to refrain from the possibility of developing the area around the main train station in an urban manner. You have to keep in mind that the entire freight yard area in Frankfurt, where the European District is located today, was developed in parallel. The freight yard area became a major urban development project that has largely been implemented today.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s talk about the architectural quality of buildings in Frankfurt. Can a high-rise development plan provide guidelines for the aesthetics of high-rise buildings?

Jochem Jourdan: A high-rise development plan is an urban planning instrument and not a method to improve a design. In our 1998 high-rise development plan, together with the City of Frankfurt, we included a text section where we demand, especially for aesthetic and architectural quality, that new high-rise buildings should be decided through competitions if possible. This is basically to determine the best quality of the high-rise designs in a competition. We still see this as one of the best ways to create quality. In terms of urban planning, the high-rise development plan has a whole range of options. For example, when we think of the Gruber-Kleine-Kranenburg skyscraper, which was newly built on the Wallanlagen.

Our office had suggested using the Wallanlagen because we wanted the rear building situation at that time to be resolved. The aim was to create a new quality of stay so that these backyards became accessible public areas and could be connected to the Wallanlagen. This made it possible to improve the quality of the properties, but at the same time create new opportunities for the population to wander through the whole thing and make shorter distances possible.

Architecture and Urban Development Professor Jochem Jourdan in Frankfurt

SKYLINE ATLAS: An architecture competition is not always an architecture competition. There are different forms of architecture competitions. There are some where only five to ten offices are invited. There are other forms. What do you think of about this topic?

Jochem Jourdan: Basically I think it’s important that a competition takes place at all. Many of these competitions are closer competitions where five to ten offices are invited to submit a competition project at all. At the same time, this also means that there are only five or ten contributions to evaluate.

Personally, I always think it’s better if you advertise larger competitions. So if you don’t make any restrictions, but rather suggest building a competition as a tiered competition. This means that in the first phase the competition is open to tender. And then, in the first phase, demands that an urban planning concept should represent the result and that the winners of this first phase should then be invited to a second phase, where the actual design and also the internal work through of the functions of the high-rise building are concerned. As a result, you can certainly achieve a much higher quality than is partially visible today in the buildings.

SKYLINE ATLAS: We heard that for the planned high-rise development plan in 2021, the restriction was introduced that offices had to have designed at least one high-rise building that was 100 meters high. What is the meaning of this?

Jochem Jourdan: I think it’s a shame that the current tender for a new high-rise development plan had this restriction. In my opinion, this includes experience in dealing with the planning of high-rise buildings. But not that you designed and built such a high-rise yourself, as is the case with our office. That was a major limitation. For this reason we could not take part in the new procedure. So far this policy has worked.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Do you believe that one day high-rise buildings with a height of more than 300 meters will also be built in Frankfurt?

Jochem Jourdan: The market will take care of the demand.

SKYLINE ATLAS: What happens to high-rise locations from the past that have not yet been developed yet?

Jochem Jourdan: I know only a few locations that haven’t been built on. This includes, for example, the area around the Millennium Tower, for which planning is to be presented soon. This location has not been developed for a long time because it means a very large financial outlay and security is required to be able to start such a high-rise building at all. In this regard, I can imagine that the original planning will be adjusted accordingly. Unless there are interested parties who want to develop and build such a high-rise.

Architecture discussion with Jochem Jourdan about highrise planning in Frankfurt

SKYLINE ATLAS: What do you think Frankfurt will look like in 15 to 20 years?

Jochem Jourdan: Frankfurt will always be a livable city and will become even more livable than it is today.

SKYLINE ATLAS: How about green spaces? Are there any considerations to further expand green areas and parks and if so, how? How do you find expression in plans such as a high-rise development plan?

Jochem Jourdan: I briefly indicated earlier that high-rise locations should not only determine which floor area and which level and height a high-rise building may have, but that a high-rise location must also take its surroundings into account. That’s how we did it in the area of the Wallanlagen, so that we included suggestions for improving the Wallanlagen. And all high-rise plans will have to do the same in the future, so that they always have to consider their surroundings and clarify what that means for the quality of the location. And of course the green spaces play a decisive role here.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Are there any high-rise development plans as we know them in Frankfurt for other cities?

Jochem Jourdan: Yes, our office has developed high-rise guidelines for Innsbruck (Austria) and Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany), for example.

SKYLINE ATLAS: What is your opinion on the discussion about the double theater system? Every now and then a skyscraper comes up for discussion.

Jochem Jourdan: I can imagine that you could build a high-rise on the property where the theater and the drama theater are today, or that a lower high-rise building is also conceivable on Opernplatz.

SKYLINE ATLAS: Real estate prices have been under great pressure in recent years. What do you think are adequate solutions to provide relaxation in this area?

Jochem Jourdan: I believe that real estate prices have to be differentiated a lot, whether it is high-rise locations or locations for new residential areas that also provide enough apartments in the social area.

Basically, we had already proposed in 1998 that a certain part of the space in the high-rise buildings should be earmarked for residential construction. However, this is always a treatment issue that the city has to deal with with the owners and clarify how they can make such demands. There are some examples where this was done in a very nice way.

The main problem I see is the following question: How can we offer social housing, that is, housing for the large number of people with middle and low incomes? All parties have failed in this regard, believing that they no longer need social housing, but rather in the period before 2000 and around the year 2000. And that is reflected today in the fact that for a certain time no one has paid attention to social housing.

The only possibility that I can see is that land for residential construction will no longer be sold, but only given on long leases in order to find solutions. You have to deal with land costs in a new way.

Jochem Jourdan, architect, about the Frankfurt skyscraper development plans
SKYLINE ATLAS: Thank you for the interview.
The interview was conducted in September 2020.

About Jochem Jourdan

Jochem Jourdan is an architect and studied at the Technical University of Darmstadt attending lectures of Theo Pabst, Karl Gruber, Max Guther, Hans Gerhard Evers, and passed the main diploma examination with Ernst Neufert in 1965. He was a research assistant at the chair of Professor Dr. Rolf Romero. He then founded Projektgruppe Architektur und Städtebau (lit. Architecture and Urban Development, PAS) in Darmstadt in 1970 with his partner Bernhard Müller. In 1978 a second office was opened in Kassel. The office has been in Frankfurt since 1980, where numerous urban planning projects as well as building projects in administrative, industrial, residential and cultural construction were carried out in the following years.

Building in historical buildings is one of Jourdan’s core competencies. The complex of the former Landeszentralbank Hessen on Taunusanlage in Frankfurt, which today houses the Frankfurt branch of Bundesbank, is an important work.

From 1980 to 2002 Jochem Jourdan was a university professor for design, building preservation and monument preservation at the University of Kassel. He is a member of the German Werkbund (DWB), the Association of German Architects (BDA), the Architects and Engineers Association (AIV) and the Association for Urban, Regional and State Planners (SRL).

The architectural office Jourdan & Müller PAS has now been renamed Jourdan & Müller Steinhauser Architekten. The main areas of activity are administrative buildings, existing buildings, industry and transport, and urban development. The office will be continued in the next generation by Benjamin Jourdan, Felix Jourdan, and Nicolai Steinhauser.

Correction: In an older version of this article it was stated that the high-rise development plan 2021 would be presented by Prof. Jochem Jourdan. This information is incorrect and has since been corrected.