Why isn't Europe building a lot of skyscrapers?

The high-rise as a dead end

Why Europe doesn't need skyscrapers

So that it becomes clear what it's about: It's not about extreme densities over larger areas a la Manhattan; it is not a question of only 6, 10 or 14 storeys; Nor is it about high-rise buildings loosely scattered in a park with ultimately moderate densities. "Skyscrapers" of 40 and more floors, 10 to 50 times as high as they are wide, the property completely enclosed (usually one to three storeys, at least several times underground), standing individually or in small groups of two to four scrapers are up for discussion.

Light, air and sun are only available filtered and second-hand above perhaps 30 m. You can produce it cheaper below. The view of the Isar valley and the Alps remains (please also insert "Baltic Sea", "Teutoburg Forest" or similar). That's really nice for those who have it. And as long as only a few shadows are producing and blocking the view of the sky, one could take it with humor and tolerance, without immediately complaining about egalite or understanding democracy - at least if one does not live or work under it. Because the whole thing is of course at the expense of those who stay below.

According to the definition, there are no real open spaces left. But artificial ones can also be designed without high-rise buildings: streets, squares, passages, arcades, malls, courtyards, terraces. At higher densities, the tree is left with the more or less comfortable and concealed bucket anyway.

High building densities can always be achieved with lower building heights; think, for example, of the popular downtown Barcelona. Just take one of the relevant models of high-rise projects (photo is sufficient), lay the skyscraper flat in your mind and distribute its building mass roughly evenly over the buildings in the vicinity (minus the vast amount of enclosed space for technology, statics and construction that is caused by the Laying flat will now be superfluous). The effect is striking: a moderately skilled architect will realize this in such a way that you hardly notice the difference with / without a skyscraper.

Mixed use or monofunctionality - i.e. oversized individual units - are also serious issues in urban planning. Because the tight economic rationality seduces all institutions to growth. The sheer size of authorities, universities, corporate administrations and other "centers" is already suppressing the growing or necessary diversity of city districts. But that is not a question of the height: five-story boredom would - perhaps - be worse than fifty-story thrill; on the other hand, concert halls, apartments, bistros, offices, institutes, swimming pools and many other things could also replace each other in a colorful sequence in a high-rise building. Even if with a few restrictions: Everything will be of the expensive kind - due to the construction costs - and - due to uniform planners and administrators - no more complex than their heads. Nevertheless - the demand for a mix of uses ultimately speaks neither for nor against skyscrapers.

Public access to streets and urban surroundings is also an imperative so that urban diversity also bears fruit. Only there you can experience a random sample of your fellow citizens, without pre-selection according to age, nationality or social class. And you don't avoid the effort to be a fellow citizen yourself. This includes the street and the square with the right to common use and special uses, direct access to it, the experience of the neighborhood, the view from the window, the view into the window. But the skyscraper knows no neighborhood; it cuts them off. Of course you can also be cut off on the second floor; but in the skyscraper you have no chance. Completely without social romance and also without a blockkeeper perspective: the urban public is as valuable as it is sensitive. How many may - or how far may one - withdraw from it without it ceasing to exist? The skyscraper is the temptation to do so.

Ultimately, the question of traffic and accessibility arises - does the high-rise actually create proximity? How much traffic does the 50th floor require? Vertical traffic in the skyscraper requires the elevator - a very peculiar means of transport. The "single cabin for 5 to 20 people with an exclusive concrete shaft for shuttle traffic" is unbeatably expensive in terms of space and energy requirements, construction and operating costs - especially if you only want to go up in the morning and only down in the evening. Nobody would construct such pendulum cabins in horizontal tunnels, e.g. from a subway station in a star shape into the normal city district. There is no other way vertically, and you forgive the pendulum cabin for its absurdity. Even if it becomes more and more nonsensical with increasing height in the skyscraper. For the time being we have to come to terms with the fact that a horizontal step 80 cm long corresponds to a vertical step 15 cm high - in terms of time and energy expenditure; and the respective mechanical aids hardly change this relationship. The vertical must therefore get around a factor of 5. By the way - our field of vision also has a landscape format with a height to width ratio of around 1: 4 to 1: 6. Let's build houses that meet this standard! We are genetically adapted to this: for 500,000 years, Homo sapiens only saw the width of the East African savannah and the height of the trees on its edge. Nothing against attempts to break through the evolutionary legacy. Right off the bat, however, I knew, for example, from the area of ​​"dealing with nature and conspecifics" a whole series of paleolithic inherited burdens that would justify the sweat to overcome them more than the building of skyscrapers of all things.

It is well known that traffic networks within a building and between the facilities of the city should exist in as many directions as possible - to minimize the routes for all the diverse relationships. Now, however, the skyscraper in the transport network is comparable to a huge cul-de-sac 1 km long - if you convert a height of around 200 m into the horizontal with a factor of 5 - with a few adjacent pendulum cabins as access. There can be no question of necessary cross-linking; neither within the house between its various rooms, nor in the relationships with the city: on average, a detour of 500 m is necessary for half of all trips. So it is not just the elevator and the difference in height that require a tremendous amount of effort; The dead-end system of development also produces maximum routes, maximum expenditure of time and thus maximum inefficiency. In no city in the world one can rightly find dead ends 1 km long. And if someone thinks the controlled gate at the entrance to the cul-de-sac is so important: With low systems, additional gates would at least be possible to avoid detours. A normal skyscraper completely lacks the traffic network that would correspond to the functional network of a city with a large house. An access system could become interesting if high-rise collections - perhaps every ten floors - were spatially networked on all sides by building structures. Not the car climbing stairs, but the magnetic levitation technology with the linear motor could cope with horizontal and vertical just as well. We should perhaps use it when starting new cities.

Nor can it be beauty in general that drives high-rise construction. Because undoubtedly there are beautiful low-rise buildings as well as beautiful high-rise buildings. Just as, of course, every category of ugliness is to be had in every amount.

It must then be the specific beauty of the skyscraper, its symbolic content. And then everything becomes very easy. Not to be surpassed in terms of unambiguous ambiguity, the high-rise represents a very simple, masculine claim to power in the most crude, arachaic and primitive form. Representation should be free to every builder and certainly also in a special way to the particularly influential builders. It originally belongs to the street and the city. It has always been like that - from the Greek temples to the Gothic castles and cathedrals and the baroque palaces to - yes, to the bank headquarters in Manhattan and their epigones all over the world. But precisely this inflation of the skyscraper has long since devalued its symbolic content. The third infusion would still literally overshadow everything else. But it would no longer impressively prove the potency of the extremely successful organizers of material supplies, but only embarrassing intrusiveness and lack of imagination.

The European city is too good for that. The rule of money is indeed very differentiated, has very cultivated and humane aspects. You don't have to close yourself off to these - but they don't need any exhibitionistic statements. The good show, the self-expression with heart, culture and a winking sympathy for anarchy has its place in the European city. In this good tradition there are many opportunities to be a "global city". To show power and money. The construction of skyscrapers is about the same as, let's say, Saskatoon, the capital of the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan.


Kassel August 1997