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Photo Gallery: Germany's Big Building Headaches

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

Starchitect Trio The Men Behind Germany's Building Debacles

Stuttgart's train station, Hamburg's concert house and Berlin's airport: Three projects in Germany are currently competing to be seen as the country's most disastrous. SPIEGEL spoke to the star architects behind the construction sites.

Christoph Ingenhoven, Meinhard von Gerkan and Pierre de Meuron are among the best-known architects in the world. So how is it possible that these grand masters are responsible for construction sites where many things have been going wrong for years? What are the reasons that public building sites in Germany so often turn into scenes of disaster? As different as the three architects' projects are, their problems are similar: delays to the point of construction freezes and hundreds of millions of euros in cost overruns. The train station and railway project Stuttgart 21  is identified with 53-year-old architect Christoph Ingenhoven, although he is only responsible for the construction of the main train station. The Hamburg architecture firm of Gerkan, Marg and Partners built the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport , under the leadership of 78-year-old Meinhard von Gerkan, who was fired by the airport company in 2012, only to be brought back to the project this year. Finally, the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, while the construction portion was managed by the construction giant Hochtief, with which Pierre de Meuron, 63, and his partners were long at odds. The fees for all architects and general contractors involved amount to €93.9 million ($125 million) for the Elbphilharmonie and €36 million for the Stuttgart train station. According to Gerkan, an exact amount cannot be determined at this time for Berlin's long-awaited new airport. The three men recently met at the SPIEGEL building in Hamburg to discuss their controversial projects.


SPIEGEL: Mr. de Meuron, Mr. von Gerkan and Mr. Ingenhoven, architecture's reputation in this country is worse than ever. How much of the blame do you bear?

Gerkan: It's a big mistake to voluntarily serve as a figurehead, because then everyone knows whom to target. We are these figureheads, not the clients and not the construction companies. And we are liable for everything.

De Meuron: Is the reputation really that bad?

Ingenhoven: I have to say that the reputation is not bad. In fact, outside Germany, it's even excellent.

SPIEGEL: People are protesting in the streets because of your train station in Stuttgart, Mr. Ingenhoven. The three building sites we are discussing are the most prominent in Germany. They are talked about worldwide, because all kinds of disasters are happening with them.

Ingenhoven: What I can confirm is that there is a frenzied political discussion about the issue in Germany. But I don't believe that architecture's reputation is actually being harmed.

SPIEGEL: You are architects. But, in these cases, you are also general contractors, working in collaboration with the builders and construction firms. Plenty of things are going wrong with the Elbphilharmonie, Stuttgart 21 and Berlin Brandenburg Airport.

Cost Overruns and Delays with Three Major German Building Projects

Cost Overruns and Delays with Three Major German Building Projects

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

Ingenhoven: Mr. von Gerkan said that we are figureheads. One reason this is true is that we were asked to represent the project in the public eye. In Stuttgart, the whole thing started in 1995, and it won't be over before 2021. If you look up the project costs on Wikipedia today, you will find that the original estimate of (German rail provider) Deutsche Bahn was €2.5 billion ($3.3 billion). Today we're talking about 5 or possibly 6 billion euros. In other words, we are talking about a project that will take 25 years to complete and for which the costs have doubled. If you compare this to what a VW Golf cost 25 years ago and what it costs today, this is acceptable, especially in light of the extensive changes and tightening of laws.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that the price tag of €6.5 billion, which is only an estimate at this point, is acceptable?

Ingenhoven: Yes. And I believe that this country can only survive if it builds these kinds of projects.

SPIEGEL: Mr. de Meuron, do you feel that the price for Hamburg's new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, is reasonable? It currently stands in the neighborhood of €865 million.

De Meuron: There is no doubt that the way the project has progressed has been far from ideal. This is very regrettable, especially for taxpayers. We are no less upset about this than the city is. We have also never experienced cost overruns and schedule delays of this magnitude before.

SPIEGEL: Can you tell us how much you think the Elbphilharmonie should have cost?

De Meuron: Whether the Elbphilharmonie could have been built for less is a hypothetical question today. Since the first draft plan, the project has undergone countless changes and been expanded to include substantial extra features, such as an additional concert hall. But what is more important is what the city ends up getting for its money and what the Elbphilharmonie truly means to residents once it is in operation.

Ingenhoven: In other words, Pierre, you're allowing yourself to evade the question.

De Meuron: No, I'm not, because it's the truth!

Ingenhoven: I would say there is no way this should cost more than €800 million. It's impossible to spend €800 million on this site and on the space involved. In other words, some of that amount must have something to do with the process and the delays.

De Meuron: What makes it unnecessarily expensive are the legal issues and everything resulting from them. Scheduling delays, project disputes and even shutdowns have played a key role in pushing the price up to this level. Look at this cup in front of me. Let's say it represents the Elbphilharmonie. They initially said it had to be white and somehow contain tea. That was roughly what was stated in the call for bids at the time. But no one said how big it should be, that it also needed a saucer and possibly even a spoon. And if all of that isn't in the specifications, you cannot, with a clear conscience, set a price or agree to fixed schedules. What we lacked at the time was enough time for careful planning. Now policymakers have finally figured that out, at least in Hamburg.

SPIEGEL: But people expect the architect to tell them what is feasible and which budgets are realistic. And they expect him or her to object when the amounts they quote are too low.

De Meuron: We did that. Constantly. Verbally, in writing and at the right time. Please don't advertise for bids and don't award any contracts, and plan properly, we said. We can prove this, because it was all addressed in the parliamentary investigation committee.

Ingenhoven: Pierre is right. This is how it often happens. When policymakers are the client, they hire a general contractor, and he says: I'll do this much for you, and it'll cost you x amount of money. For lack of sufficient planning depth, however, no one knows at this point how much is really included in the package.

SPIEGEL: Mr. de Meuron, together with investors, presented the Elbphilharmonie project to the public in 2003. At the time, it was said that the city merely had to provide the land, and that it would have no other costs. The building itself was supposed to cost €40 million, which the investors would raise by other means. The figure of only €40 million was mentioned -- and you were there, Mr. de Meuron.

De Meuron: We never mentioned such figures.

Gerkan: Mr. de Meuron, your original investor, who was later awarded a medal, did indeed create the impression that the whole thing wasn't going to cost the city anything. After that, only the best would do. Then-Mayor Ole von Beust, for example, asked for the world's top experts on acoustics.

SPIEGEL: Soon they were saying that the whole thing would cost €187 million, and that the city was responsible for €77 million of the total. After that, new figures were constantly being quoted. Herzog & de Meuron were no longer the figureheads, but rather the bogeymen.

De Meuron: Regarding your point, Mr. Gerkan, that was never my investor. And, regarding the bogeyman theory, that isn't how we see ourselves.

Gerkan: A building project doesn't simply progress from A to Z, with everything going according to plan. Most plans start at the end. The first thing a client wants to know is when it will be finished. The last thing he's interested in is what it will look like and how it will be furnished.

SPIEGEL: And he isn't interested in what it'll cost, either?

Gerkan: In Berlin, the client -- which was the federal government, together with the states of Berlin and Brandenburg -- had the crazy idea that the airport would pay for itself through passenger fees. Every passenger who entered the airport was to buy an entry ticket first. Each of the two general contractors that had applied was supposed to calculate how much this entry price had to be, but without having a reasonable numerical basis to go by. Was it 5 million passengers, or 20 million? At the same time, the clients were tripping over each other with requests for changes.

'New Demands Were Constantly Being Made'

SPIEGEL: As an architect, can you withdraw from a project when you realize that everything is going wrong?

De Meuron: We would never do anything of the kind. Imagine how outraged people would have been if we had simply cut and run because we didn't like some of the decisions. Withdrawing would have sent the message that we were not prepared to assume responsibility.

SPIEGEL: Some people would have called it courageous.

De Meuron: I don't believe that. We are courageous because we stayed with the project. We have assumed an obligation -- not just to the client, but also to the city. We see ourselves as our clients' partner and have now found a good solution, so that the building will be ready for delivery in 2016.

SPIEGEL: You are building for a public that has to pay for everything and doesn't really want to do so anymore.

De Meuron: I said earlier that it's regrettable -- very much so, in fact. But I unfortunately can't change that.

SPIEGEL: A new contract has now been hammered out between the city, as the client, Hochtief, the construction giant now owned by a Spanish company, and you. Hochtief has now -- and somewhat belatedly -- committed itself to working together with you.

De Meuron: That's exactly the way it is. We were able to establish mutual respect and, as a result, develop trust, which is important for future collaboration. Now the project is more effectively interconnected, and Hochtief relieved the city of the risks. We, as architects, were intensively involved in this agreement. Current Mayor Olaf Scholz has made the Elbphilharmonie a top priority and has truly dedicated himself to the project. He was a very tough negotiator and represented the city extremely well.

SPIEGEL: Former Mayor Ole von Beust, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was long in charge of the project. But, since 2011, it has been Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, whose praises you are now singing. And now Scholz has committed another €198 million and has even relinquished claims for damages. Some consider that to be reckless.

De Meuron: Others should judge that. Experts feel that the new solution is the only viable approach. In addition, the agreement offers a high degree of security.

Ingenhoven: I also never saw a reason to withdraw from the project in Stuttgart. Never. As general contractors, we are only responsible for the actual train station building. In that part of the project, the actual costs are less than 10 percent higher than the estimate, so that we're very close to the price. Compare that with other parts of the Stuttgart project, such as the tunnel, the rail lines and the logistics. If these things had been planned so far ahead and with the same degree of detail, the costs would have been much closer to the estimates. It would have required the payment of significantly higher initial costs, though, which policymakers didn't support.

SPIEGEL: Rüdiger Grube, CEO of the German railway provider Deutsche Bahn, says this project would never have been approved if he had known about all this in advance.

Ingenhoven: This distancing is an expression of personal frustration, which was understandable at the time. You can understand it if you're receiving death threats, as he did. And, of course, it's also an expression of frustration over the political situation, and of almost having sacrificed this project to the ambitions of individual Green Party politicians. To say that you would no longer pursue the project under today's conditions doesn't necessarily mean that you don't think it makes sense. A minority has ensured that it is taking 10 years longer and will be significantly more expensive.

SPIEGEL: You see! Architecture is constantly causing trouble in this country.

Ingenhoven: In the arbitration process, someone said that they would have liked to see the additional train station at the airport moved by a few hundred meters. No problem. We can do that. It'll just cost a few hundred million more. Everyone wants to implement the outcome of the arbitration, but no one wants to pay. Well, fellows, that is downright childish.

SPIEGEL: What are the options for architects to prevent something like this from happening?

Gerkan: First of all, I'd like to clear up a misunderstanding. We're always hearing about the concept of exploding costs, and it provokes people. Everyone understands this to mean that a project ends up costing much more than the original quoted price. In reality, people are comparing elephants with little mice. Here's an example: In the case of the Berlin airport, the commitments made by the federal government and the states of Berlin and Brandenburg to citizens include €139 million for soundproofing, not at the airport, but in residential buildings in the surrounding area. The work ordered by the airport company was not in compliance with current sound-protection requirements. Now an additional €591 million has to be spent on noise mitigation. And here's another example: The airport was originally designed to cover an area of 200,000 square meters (2.1 million square feet), but the current area is 340,000 square meters. It's no longer the same airport. New demands were constantly being made.

SPIEGEL: There are cases where children in Hamburg go to school in classrooms consisting of containers. But somehow they can come up with €865 million for the Elbphilharmonie.

Ingenhoven: No one thinks that's cool. But, in the case of the Elbphilharmonie, the public-sector client was unable to stop things from moving forward at the right time, to say, let's take some time to cope with our mistakes and, accepting a delay and a limited increase in costs as a necessary evil, return to an orderly process.

SPIEGEL: Mr. de Meuron, do you agree?

De Meuron: Regrettably, yes. Complex building projects always come with risks, but they can be minimized. In Hamburg, the structure of the contract was so complicated that the city was hardly able to control the project anymore.

Ingenhoven: The client should have said: "We have made a huge mistake." And if the client realizes that things just aren't working out with the general contractor, he should get rid of him. That should have been the realization, because that's the way to avert even greater losses. The same thing probably applies to the airport, as well.

SPIEGEL: What, exactly?

Ingenhoven: They should have admitted that the fire-safety plans were inadequate. But politicians don't want to do that, because then they get voted out of office. It means that they would have to sell an entrepreneurial strategy to the public: We're going to spend more money now, and it's also going to take longer. But, as a result, we'll have the problems under control.

SPIEGEL: Does the supposedly inexhaustible supply of taxpayer money also tempt people to disregard agreements?

Ingenhoven: No. The lack of knowledge in the supervisory bodies, which are filled with policymakers, is what tempts them. Why is (Berlin Mayor Klaus) Wowereit on the airport's supervisory board? Why wasn't the chairman of Frankfurt's airport made chairman of the supervisory board in Berlin?

SPIEGEL: Because he isn't the client, and because the client wants to have a say.

Ingenhoven: But at least the chairman from Frankfurt would understand what's going on.

SPIEGEL: So the mistakes are always made by others, not by the architects?

Ingenhoven: Of course, those who promote these ideas, including the architects, do develop a certain allure. If you succumb to it and build these projects, you accept the risks. There are always risks.

SPIEGEL: But what's your risk? After all, your fees just go up when the project gets more expensive.

De Meuron: No. Our fee is not a percentage of building costs. And we take many economic risks. If a project is not finished and up and running in time, we pay daily penalties. What's more, we vouch for the project with our reputation. But your question is really whether we make mistakes. Of course we do. But we also learn from them. Why are the names of architects like us known to the public? Not because we haven't made any mistakes. We are known because the projects are discussed publicly and sometimes, as in the case of the Elbphilharmonie, the architectural aspects are discussed in a positive light.

'It Can't Even Be Done Without Mistakes and Problems'

SPIEGEL: Why did it take five years to recognize the need for restructuring?

De Meuron: We repeatedly warned that something was going wrong. All partners in the project were informed, both verbally and in writing, and I personally brought it to the attention of the then-mayor.

SPIEGEL: We have managed to identify a few structural problems. One of them is that projects are always put out to tender too early and with budgets that are too low.

De Meuron: That's a fair assessment.

SPIEGEL: And politicians are not experts, and yet they claim competency. And architects are incapable of saying: No, that's not the way it goes.

Ingenhoven: We need to take another look at the question of why this is the case. There was a special economy in West Germany after the war. The subsequent excess capacity was obscured by reunification, but it still existed, and it resulted in conditions being completely messed up. Many in the industry are prepared to force their way into projects at prices they know are unrealistic.

Gerkan: But these construction companies have complete confidence in their departments that handle negotiations on additional features, that is, the ones that aggressively make subsequent demands. In the end, these companies get their money.

Ingenhoven: I would call it the "Department for the Invention of Additional Features."

Gerkan: "Invention of Additional Features"? That's good.

Ingenhoven: As soon as a contract is signed, the most intelligent and experienced people at the construction companies fight to squeeze much more money from the project than was initially intended. The consequence is that the most intelligent people working for the client, the architect and the general contractors do everything they can to fend them off.

Gerkan: You have to consider that these are gigantic projects, and that they come with special problems. In Berlin, we need a smoke-exhaust system to ensure that tens of thousands of people don't die from smoke inhalation if there is a fire. The two big companies in Germany that make the controls for this type of system, Bosch and Siemens, were unable to construct the necessary equipment within a reasonable amount of time. One of the reasons was that policymakers had decided that the contract had to be awarded to two companies. This led to compatibility problems with the system. It was like making a car that's an Opel in front and a Mercedes in back. But then the car won't run and has to be completely rebuilt, which costs more time and money.

SPIEGEL: In Berlin, such contracts were awarded by Wowereit's airport company. There is no guarantee that the smoke-exhaust system will be ready for use in the foreseeable future, and that the airport can ever be opened.

Gerkan: Let's not go that far. Most cars eventually work if they're tested long enough.

Ingenhoven: It'll work, if Gerkan is lucky. If he's unlucky, the European fire safety standard will change and he'll have to rebuild. That's how we operate these days. In Stuttgart, we're now being required to satisfy a new fire safety standard at the train station for the second time. The last time, the changes included cutting fire rescue times in half and doubling the relevant fire load. We are dealing with an exponential increase in the problem, which is something you take into account during planning.

SPIEGEL: There are exponential increases in problems everywhere. At the Berlin airport, the engineers couldn't even find the light switches. They don't know how to switch off the lights in the empty building.

Gerkan: Well, that's what happens when you chase everyone off the building site and there's no one left who knows where the light switch is.

SPIEGEL: And then we're told that there are so many mistakes that can't be corrected that it would be best to raze the airport and start over from scratch.

Ingenhoven: Have you ever built for a private client? I have, and -- speaking candidly, as I expect this is the case with almost every client -- I was never able to keep my costs and my schedule completely under control. I'm still in the process of working out the building engineering aspects. Of course, I also designed something to the hilt.

SPIEGEL: In other words, you think it's completely normal that nothing works on construction sites? Not many people will have sympathy for that.

Ingenhoven: Of course we have the obligation to get everything to work, and we demonstrate that in major projects around the world. But even an iPhone doesn't always work, even though it's a global brand, costs a lot of money and has an incredible image.

SPIEGEL: So?

Ingenhoven: So why should something that's vastly bigger than an iPhone and isn't even finished yet be 100 percent functional right from the start? Pierre said that he also makes mistakes. I would take it a step further and say that mistakes are an implicit part of the system. It can't even be done without mistakes and problems. The mistake is that people don't communicate and cooperate with each other, but actually work at cross-purposes.

De Meuron: You have to recognize the mistake. That's the first step. I also believe that there was very little self-criticism in the case of the Elbphilharmonie. As a Swiss citizen, I shouldn't be making observations about Germany.

SPIEGEL: No, please do.

De Meuron: There was something that never made sense to me: Why does Germany, the country that carries half of Europe, have these problems with complex development projects? I believe that building is teamwork, like football. If everyone on the football team doesn't want to win, you'll lose, even if you have the most expensive players. In other words, it only works when you have a shared goal and team spirit. But if everyone merely defends his own interests in a building project, escalation ensues.

SPIEGEL: Is this attitude pronounced in Germany?

Ingenhoven: I think this country pays too high a price for its success. And that's evident in the realm of interpersonal relationships and the resulting business practices. We've built a lot in Australia and the United States. They're certainly not pushovers, but I can tell you that there is significantly more mutual respect there. Everyone knows that everyone has to make money. In Germany, however, one has the feeling that entrepreneurs are not allowed to make money.

De Meuron: It's more aggressive in Germany. You can see that in the preponderance of lawyers. There are no tougher partners than the Chinese, but they still have their Confucius at the back of their mind and want to make sure that the tone remains friendly. After signing contracts in Asia, we never dealt with attorneys again.

'Making an Honest Effort to Do the Right Thing'

SPIEGEL: Mr. von Gerkan, you're about to visit the Sultan of Oman, and you build entire cities abroad. How important is a single German project to you?

Gerkan: Fifty percent of our projects are in China, another 25 percent are in other countries, and the remaining 25 percent are in Germany. I like to build everywhere, but I can't sugarcoat the task of building in Berlin.

SPIEGEL: You'll find it more pleasant to do business with the Sultan of Oman than with Wowereit?

Gerkan: I certainly hope so.

SPIEGEL: Should mediators be involved from the start? The construction of the Tower of Babel didn't fail because people didn't know how to build, but because they could no longer understand each other.

De Meuron: I'm not crazy about mediators. I'm also not crazy about too many experts. Both have zero responsibility and represent an additional cost. Project partners that have agreed to a joint goal act in responsible way. After all, it works in other countries.

SPIEGEL: Stuttgart 21 is encountering so many problems with the public because it's costing €5 billion or more. But, when all is said and done, the train will only be a few minutes faster.

Ingenhoven: It isn't my job to determine how many more minutes it takes to get from here to there. The purpose of the new train station is to put Stuttgart back on the European map, to lift it into a functioning high-speed network and to create space and quiet in this crowded city by placing the tracks underground.

SPIEGEL: It costs €162,000 a month to clean the empty airport in Berlin.

Gerkan: That's terrible. According to the information I currently have, although it changes daily, the holdup is costing €20 million a month. You have to imagine this: There hasn't been a single construction worker there for an entire year. It's exasperating.

Ingenhoven: The three of us are not cynics. We are making an honest effort to do the right thing. And it's difficult to experience what we're going through. You ask how many minutes are saved because of the new train station. In discussions like these, think I have a right to not be treated like someone who can't put two and two together. I think it shows a lack of respect.

SPIEGEL: So you're saying that people should believe everything the experts say?

Ingenhoven: No, but they shouldn't automatically assume that they're just being lied to. When I was called a liar in the public meetings in Stuttgart, it took some effort on my part not to punch the person who said it.

SPIEGEL: The financial crisis has changed many things. We think differently about money and progress. Do we really need these major development projects?

Ingenhoven: Careful! Of course it's painful to society when the Elbe River is dredged to build a container port. But what happens if we don't accept this pain as a necessary evil? Stagnation? In Stuttgart, a vocal minority of old people drummed up resistance to the project. We are talking about people who decorate the construction fence as if they were at Princess Diana's funeral. We cannot allow 20 percent of the population to shape the future for everyone else.

SPIEGEL: But things have worked well in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Berlin so far. Hamburg has a good concert hall, Stuttgart had a normal train station until recently and Berlin -- well, Berlin did need a large airport, but things worked just fine with three airports in the past. In fact, Berliners are very fond of Tegel Airport, which Mr. von Gerkan built.

De Meuron: The citizens of Hamburg wanted and approved the Elbphilharmonie. It's a bottom-up and not a top-down project. When it's finished and concerts are held there, Hamburgers will eventually forget about the problems and love the Elbphilharmonie. I'm convinced of that.

'The Solution Is to Plan More Intensely in Advance'

SPIEGEL: Do you have a solution that would enable architects, citizens and politicians to find their way out of this mess?

Gerkan: Developing and expressing solutions is one thing. Putting them into practice in a political landscape that's tied to a four-year cycle is another. Politicians depend on making a name for themselves with major projects during their terms in office.

Ingenhoven: The solution is to plan more intensively in advance.

Gerkan: That sounds like a panacea, but it isn't one. The pure truth doesn't get you far in this business. The opera house in Sydney would never have been approved if they had known how much it would cost from the start. It only works with fake documents.

SPIEGEL: With a lie at the very beginning?

Gerkan: Yes. Only with a lie.

Ingenhoven: We're all supposed to be turned into puppets in this game the politicians play. I don't believe that lying is the solution, and I'm not afraid to be honest. People are capable of suffering, if need be. They accepted the bank bailouts. What matters is the honesty and ability of the person who has to sell a project to people. That's where the architects come in.

De Meuron: I'm in favor of openness, if only to protect ourselves. Lies always come back to haunt you. I would never support a lie, and I would never support trickery. The Chinese talk about trickery. It's completely normal there, and it isn't considered objectionable to lead people on. But I would not use trickery in European culture. The public sphere here is a glass cage.

Gerkan: You, Mr. de Meuron and Mr. Ingenhoven, certainly do make an upright impression. But I could name a dozen projects off the top of my head that consistently began with a lie. The ICC (International Congress Centrum) in Berlin, for example, was planned for 120 million deutsche marks and ended up costing 924 million. Do you think everyone believed in the 120 million?

Ingenhoven: The question is: Is this how things are supposed to go?

Gerkan: We, as people, shouldn't make ourselves out to be better than we are. Mr. Ingenhoven and I once argued about China in a SPIEGEL interview, about whether we, as German architects, should build there. All I can say is this: These lies don't exist in China, because you don't have to lie to anyone there. Someone makes the decisions there, and he makes his decisions because it's what the party supports.

Ingenhoven: Hold on. I think we have to strike a blow for the democratic process. Even though I'm the victim of this democratic excess in Stuttgart, I still believe that these processes exist to prevent mistakes from happening. Cities are full of mistakes, but in the end an outcome that was produced through democratic means is a qualified outcome. Shanghai, on the other hand, was completely ruined within 10 years.

SPIEGEL: The rapid reconstruction in postwar Germany is referred to as the "Second Destruction." Architects and urban planners disfigured our cities. Their forbidding nature is a German trauma.

De Meuron: Germany isn't caught in a trauma. Germany is a great example of how to deal with the challenges of history. We can't always dream of Venice or Paris. A normal city isn't inherently beautiful, because it's the result of all sorts of battles and difficulties.

SPIEGEL: If you had known about the battles that awaited you in Hamburg, would you have steered clear of the Elbphilharmonie project?

De Meuron: The Elbphilharmonie is very important in terms of urban planning. It connects the port section and the city proper. We stand completely behind the project and would do it exactly the same away again.

SPIEGEL: Your design, Mr. Ingenhoven, is from 1997. Would you draw it differently today?

Ingenhoven: I wouldn't say this about every project, but in the case of Stuttgart I can say that I would do exactly the same way today.

SPIEGEL: Mr. von Gerkan, are you still happy with your design?

Gerkan: Not entirely. Above all, I regret the fact that we had to include such long distances in the plan. Airports have turned into huge shopping centers. You know, the most beautiful airport building, in my opinion, is the TWA Flight Center at Kennedy Airport in New York, which was completed in 1962 based on a design by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. The departure building looks like a flying dinosaur. It's magnificent. The building is empty today. Check-in conditions are constantly changing, almost annually. This brought us to the realization that an airport has to be as neutral as possible, so that the building doesn't conflict with any formal requirements. Roof, columns and that's it.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ingenhoven, Mr. de Meuron, Mr. von Gerkan, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knöfel

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan