SPIEGEL Interview with Architect Christoph Ingenhoven 'Modernism Is an Attitude, Not a Style'

Christoph Ingenhoven has been described as a "cold modernist." In a SPIEGEL interview, the Düsseldorf-based architect discusses his highly controversial plan to move Stuttgart's train station underground, his criticism of efforts to reconstruct German buildings destroyed in the war and his trouble with today's Asian mega-cities.


Editor's note: Please click here to read a sidebar providing background information about the " Stuttgart 21" project to transform the southern German city's railway station and downtown area.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ingenhoven, 13 years ago, you won the competition to design the new train station in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart. But things haven't progressed very far. In fact, people opposed to your design throw mass demonstrations in which they chant your name as if calling for your head. Have you ever considered just throwing in the towel?

Christoph Ingenhoven: No, of course not. For me, giving up is not an option. It would be different if I weren't as certain about what I'm doing. For many years, I didn't even say anything in public about the " Stuttgart 21" project because I felt I had to conserve my energy for the actual work at hand.

SPIEGEL: Do you still like your design from over a decade ago?

Ingenhoven: Yes, quite a lot.

SPIEGEL: Your detractors disapprove of almost everything about it. For example, your design moves the train station -- which is currently a terminus station -- underground and transforms the above-ground area into a public square. The bell-shaped skylights you've designed to look down from this square into the station itself have been ridiculed as "futuristic pimples." Likewise, your plan to tear down the exterior wings of the current train station has triggered heavy opposition. You must find that very frustrating.

Ingenhoven: No, it doesn't frustrate me, though I simply don't understand some of it. In 1997, I won an open, fair competition and, at the time, there was a great deal of enthusiasm. Then, there was the process to get the plans approved, which ended when the permits were issued in 2005. People had the chance to voice their objections, so it was a completely democratic process. But, at a certain point, you have to let people start building, which is what we're doing now.

SPIEGEL: Even so, there are still a lot of Stuttgart residents who feel that the project has been decreed from on high. In response, the project's opponents have been portraying themselves as being part of a grassroots movement and using terms such as "roundtable meetings" and "Monday demonstrations."

Ingenhoven: It is certainly well within their rights to call them "Monday demonstrations." But, to be perfectly honest, I find that making this reference to the demonstrations that started in Leipzig (in East Germany in 1989) and culminated in Germany's reunification is a misuse of the name given to what is perhaps one of the most impressive movements to ever take place on German soil. If I were my opponents, I'd be a bit more humble and just simply state that I'm against demolishing the north wing (of the existing train station). That's totally fine, and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Still, despite all the current anger, people shouldn't forget that in 1997, when we were selected as the contest's winner, we would have won any referendums.

SPIEGEL: Why do you think public opinion tipped the other way?

Ingenhoven: When a project is new and compelling, people are excited about it. But the more time that passes, there are more concerns that bubble up. And then there is the political dimension: At the time, there were a number of pending state and local elections. Politicians, who have to somehow differentiate themselves from their opponents, tend to use projects like these to their advantage.

SPIEGEL: Germany's Green Party has been publicly opposed to the "Stuttgart 21" project for a long time. If you can't even convince a party with a strong environmental platform to support a train-station project aimed at getting more people to use public transportation, then who do you think you can convince?

Ingenhoven: I don't think the Greens were initially opposed to the project. But they're a popular party in Stuttgart, and they hope to win the mayoral race some day. They undoubtedly think it's better to be aligned with those opposed to the project. When I won the contest, I was 37. At that time, I quipped that it was a good thing that they chose a young architect because I would probably still be around when the train station was completed. It was meant as a joke, but I'll probably be 60 by the time it's done, which is pretty rough.

SPIEGEL: Can you not understand why people wouldn't be all that thrilled about having a construction site in the middle of their city for 10 years?

Ingenhoven: I understand it perfectly well. But, if you look at it another way, we have something very attractive to look forward to. By putting the train station underground, the downtown area will be enlarged by 20 to 30 percent, which will give us all the opportunities we need to gradually create a sustainable new neighborhood. I think it's a shame that I find myself confronted -- and not just in Stuttgart -- with situations where it's gotten difficult to push through changes in urban planning. By this, I mean changes that involve the whole spectrum of inconveniences, such as construction noise and blocking off parts of the city. The older our society gets, the less willing it is to accept such inconveniences.


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