Frankfurt’s ECB: A superlative Skyscraper
Facility Manager Volker Teige in Conversation
The new European Central Bank in Frankfurt’s Ostend district is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular high-rises in the Main metropolis. During the day, the sunlight is reflected in the twisted facade; at night, the high-rise looks like a silent observer of the nearby banking district. A real eye-catcher for the ever-growing Frankfurt skyline!
But what about further high-rise buildings at the Ostend site? Is the current capacity sufficient for the European Central Bank in the long term? And what are the daily operations like in such a special building? We asked Volker Teige, Facility Manager of the European Central Bank, these and other questions in our exclusive interview.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Dear Mr. Teige, it’s nice of you to take the time for our interview here inside the European Central Bank today. As Head of Technical Facility Management, you know all the details of the building. In a few words, what makes the new headquarters of the European Central Bank special?
Volker Teige: For me, the building’s appeal lies in the interplay between the historic structure, the Grossmarkthalle built in 1928, and the thoroughly designed buildings by Coop-Himmelb(l)au. That was a challenge in the project, and it still is in daily operation. And then, in addition to the ECB project, there was also the Jewish memorial project, which is located in the Kopfbau Ost. For me, these three elements make our “Main Building” special.
Volker Teige in the ECB
SKYLINE ATLAS: Our readers are interested in why the ECB chose the location away from the city center in Frankfurt’s Ostend district.
Volker Teige: The site was selected together with the City of Frankfurt. There was a profile of the ECB’s requirements with regard to the site. A total of 35 properties were examined and finally the decision was made in favor of the former wholesale market hall, which best met all the requirements. The new building has also had a contribution to the transformation of the Ostend area, towards a modern service location. The district has changed a lot in recent years.
SKYLINE ATLAS: There have been repeated rumors about possible further ECB buildings on the Grossmarkthalle site. How realistic is this and was such a scenario already taken into account during the construction of the current high-rise building?
Volker Teige: There is a development plan for the site that still shows free building windows. So the possibility of the ECB growing was already taken into account at the time. However, the new Banking Supervision tasks were not yet on the radar, because we only took them up shortly before the end of the construction phase. More buildings are a realistic option. We are in contact with the city about using these building windows. This is a possibility, in addition to renting or buying.
“Additional buildings are realistic.”
– Volker Teige on the question of whether further high-rise buildings are planned at the site
SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s take a look at your job at the ECB. What does a facility manager actually do, and what challenges are there in this regard in such an important and large building as the European Central Bank?
Volker Teige: My team and I are responsible for technical facility management (FM). Together with an external service provider, we are responsible for the reliable operation of the property in terms of energy supply, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, electricity and water supply. The challenges are similar to those of other buildings: the core business wants to go about its work undisturbed, and the FM must enable this daily routine to the best of its ability. What is special for me is that, at the ECB we are contributing to the vision of a united and peaceful Europe. That’s not exactly easy for anyone at the moment, no matter where.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Building technology has developed decisively in recent years. There is more and more talk of smart buildings, which digitally take over the control of the high-rise building. How does this change the role of the facility manager?
Volker Teige: Digitalization places new and higher demands on operations. This starts with the technical qualifications in the digital area and extends to the problems that these networked, complex systems bring along. One example is lighting control: the regulations issued in August 2022 to save energy in connection with the gas shortage pose a bit of a challenge for reprogramming. Different functional areas are programmed to different scenarios, all of which need to be adjusted and tested. The same applies to the 19 degree room temperature: simply turning down the thermostat on the heater is not an option here. The task is much more complex because heating and cooling interact in our networked building. Just because it’s 20 degrees in the room doesn’t mean it should be cooled. The control system has to be taught that first.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Due to the rotation of the ECB Tower and the sloping facades, each floor is designed individually. What challenges does this pose when operating the building?
Volker Teige: Surprisingly, almost none. We don’t notice it much in technical operations. Cleaning poses a challenge in some areas due to the lateral displacement of the nacelles, and the area management has to take into account different footprints on all floors.
SKYLINE ATLAS: The ECB Tower consists of two slanted towers that are held together by a specific structural design with steel struts. Can you tell us a bit more about the building’s unusual architecture?
Volker Teige: The building was very complex in the calculation of the statics and deformation in the construction process. Coop-Himmelb(l)au came up with a great design here. Fortunately, you don’t notice any of this complexity in the finished office itself. Here, the bright office spaces are the dominant feature.
The unusual architecture is most noticeable in the atrium. These huge “halls” are already very impressive. In my opinion, however, the best part is the facade: the sky is reflected in the facade and the building thus always looks slightly different during the course of the day.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Sustainability in the real estate industry is all about making buildings more efficient in operation. What is the role of the facility manager here?
Volker Teige: In facility management, we have to continuously monitor and optimize the facilities in the building in order to use only as many resources as the core business requires. Added to this is the use of environmentally friendly materials and consumables. This then requires an innovative team that keeps trying out new things and thus makes the property more sustainable. In Frankfurt, we are a member of an energy efficiency network. There we have found a forum where we can exchange ideas with other companies. That helps a lot in the search for solutions.
Sustainability has also been very successful with the historic Grossmarkthalle, which was to be preserved at all costs. It was given interior insulation and new windows. Only the western part is heated. This is done with underfloor heating. This cools the water from the district heating to below 50 degrees, which is advantageous for the efficiency of generation in the heating plants. As a result, the temperature always remains at least 15 degrees, even in the unheated areas.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s venture a little outlook at the end. Where will building technology still develop and what impact will this have on the building operation of high-rise buildings?
Volker Teige: Operations will become more and more digital. As a result, more data will be available that can be used for operational optimisation. But you also need appropriate analysis tools and experts who can interpret them. I see a lot of development work ahead of us all in order to exploit this potential. Our building automation generates about 350 lines or events per second. This generates huge amounts of data that have to be processed for analysis. You can’t get very far with Excel. If you then want to link different databases, it quickly becomes confusing. These complex tasks require data managers, and the results must ultimately be understood by the operating team and provide impetus for improvements.
Digitisation also brings new issues for operations and budget planning. IT security is a new field in facility management that can learn from classic IT. Software licenses and regular updates are suddenly needed here. This was not necessary in the past. Furthermore, product cycles and lifetimes in the IT sector are much shorter than in building technology. Firewalls, servers and switches have to be replaced at regular intervals – this is more time-consuming and costly. In the analogue world, you didn’t need that. For me, these changes and their possibilities are what make my job so appealing today. You feel like a pioneer.
SKYLINE ATLAS: Mr. Teige, thank you very much for the interview.
About Volker Teige
Volker Teige is employed as Head of Section Technical Facility Management at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. After studying hospital operations technology, he first worked as a planner in an engineering firm and then as technical manager in a clinic before joining the ECB’s premises department in 2002. In 2013, he became deputy head of department and in 2015, when the ECB moved into its Main Building, he took over the Technical Facility Management Section within the premises department.