On the up again – the renaissance of the high rise

On the up again – the renaissance of the high rise

When we think of German high-rise buildings, the main images that spring to mind are well-known settlements like Berlin’s Gropiusstadt, a residential complex named after the famous Bauhaus architect and regarded as an architectural icon of Germany’s post-war “Neues Bauen” (New Building) movement. Located on the southern border of the capital, this satellite town comprises around 18,500 residential units, which were built over a 13-year construction period between 1962 and 1975.

In the meantime, city planners and project developers have been embracing the idea of “high-rise” living again, but the buildings being constructed in many of Germany’s major cities today have little to do with the prefabricated concrete tower blocks of that time. Today’s residential towers are significantly taller and are being designed primarily for the premium end of the market, with central locations, generous layouts and luxury features promising outstanding quality of life in their lofty heights. But how did this come about?

Skywards due to space restrictions

The idea of the high-rise building originated in the booming US cities of the late 19th century. Lack of construction space, staggeringly high land prices and a population explosion had forced cities like Chicago or New York to build progressively higher structures, something that had become possible thanks to modern building materials and improved construction techniques. This trend quickly spread from the USA to Europe, and although its European offshoots only extended to office buildings at first, the construction of residential towers also became increasingly common after the widespread destruction in the Second World War. These new districts soon developed into satellite towns and bedroom communities, though, and many have a poor image to this day.

Residential towers to shape German cityscapes

With Germany’s major cities now experiencing a renaissance as cultural centers, and urban planning again being determined by housing shortages, lack of space and population growth, the return of the residential tower to German metropolitan areas is definitely being welcomed. However, today’s residential towers are radically different from the satellite towns of the 1970s. These new residential skyscrapers are being built in downtown areas and sought-after locations, and their features, fixtures and fittings range from exceptional to luxurious. The architecture is a far cry from the old tower blocks too – modern high-rise constructions aim to enrich the cityscape and are not afraid of going higher and higher either. International examples of this trend, which has now reached Germany, can be seen in cities like New York, Dubai, London and Moscow, where many luxury residential towers with esthetically pleasing forms have already been built. In Germany, however, skyscrapers higher than 150 meters still tend to be the exception. 


But this could soon change. In a recent nationwide study of residential high-rise buildings constructed or due to be constructed between 2010 and 2018, analysts from consulting firm bulwiengesa have concluded that residential towers will become increasingly common in Germany’s top seven cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt, and that their progressively attractive architecture will also have a lasting impact on the cityscape of major cities. 

Among the impressive examples of this trend of high-rise living in Berlin is the 49-meter, 14-story “High Park” tower at Potsdamer Platz, which is due to be completed at the end of 2017 and will offer its residents outstanding views over Berlin-Mitte. “Living Levels” by the River Spree is of a similar height, and the floor-to-ceiling glass fronts of its 13 stories also afford impressive views. New builds are not always necessary, though, as currently being demonstrated in the “High West” building in Charlottenburg, where a former office building is being gutted to provide space for condominiums over 17 stories. In the next few years, a high-rise apartment building is also going up at Alexanderplatz where leading architect Frank O Gehry aims to create a striking architectural statement with his 150-meter tower, and even more impressive heights are being reached in Frankfurt where Germany’s tallest residential skyscraper is being built – the 172-meter “Grand Tower” complete with an 800 sqm communal roof terrace.



Big demand and big ambitions

By 2018, 9,770 apartments will have been built in 79 residential high-rise buildings, and more than 60 percent of these will be condominiums. Most of the residential towers (75 percent, 7,280 units) will be completed between 2016 and 2018, with Berlin topping the list with 2,700 high-rise apartments in 19 projects. But this is just the beginning as there will still be a backlog of demand to be met. 75 percent of Germans now live in cities, which is a trend expected to endure, and demand for housing will also continue to rise, especially in attractive cities like Berlin and Frankfurt. Modern residential high-rise buildings will therefore play an increasingly important role in meeting this demand. 


Image and image credit:

Grand Tower in Frankfurt © Zabel Property AG