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.
'The Generation of our Fathers Built up to 60 Percent of Some Cities'
SPIEGEL: But don't you think it's understandable that people find this too much to deal with? They feel that too many of the buildings they've grown to love are being torn down only to be replaced by ones they aren't all that thrilled about.
Ingenhoven: Sure, I can understand that, too. After the war, a lot was torn down that didn't need to be. But the fact that we've gotten to the point where some people are saying they want things back that have been gone for a long time is something that I find problematic. The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche) in Dresden should remain an exception. I understood why people wanted it back, seeing that it provided considerable added emotional value. But now it has opened up a floodgate (for proponents of historical architecture) ... and things are being reconstructed everywhere.
SPIEGEL: Why should that project have more emotional value than others?
Ingenhoven: It's an expression of failure that the generations that are considered responsible today dare to treat the past like a bag of tricks, pulling this and that out of it as they please.
SPIEGEL: In Stuttgart, a dispute is raging over buildings that are still standing. You're planning to demolish parts of the old railway station designed by architect Paul Bonatz and completed in 1927. That's something entirely different from reconstruction.
Ingenhoven: You're completely right: It's an existing structure. But I would like to see our opponents spend a bit more time thinking about what we actually do with the building. All the things that you and I associate with a train station -- buying newspapers, getting tickets, booking trips -- take place at a later point in the old main building. Although I certainly subscribe to a different view of architecture than Paul Bonatz did, I'm still a fan of the big, powerful spaces he created.
SPIEGEL: For many people, the architecture of the past helps create identity, and it's evidently much more difficult to arrive at such an identity via the aesthetics of modernism. In Stuttgart, you are seen as being a "cold modernist." Is that justified?
Ingenhoven: No. "Stuttgart 21," in particular, is emotional fireworks. The building is of the type that we developed back then with Frei Otto, who helped design the stadium for the 1972 Munich Olympics, which is another modern, but emotional building. Our structure attempts to derive its poetry from a design process that emulates nature -- and not from ornamentation.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, why do people still lack confidence in modernism?
Ingenhoven: Our fathers built so many new things. But if you do a lot of things that are similar and make mistakes in the process, the mistakes will naturally be substantial and more difficult to correct.
SPIEGEL: Most of these things seem replaceable.
Ingenhoven: Of course. And rebuilding buildings destroyed in the war obviously couldn't be done in a city that had grown in other ways. But we mustn't forget that this was an exception: Every generation usually constructs 3 to 5 percent of a city. But the generation of our fathers built up to 60 percent of some cities. That's why there's so little faith in modernism. Even so, as I see it, modernism is not a style but, rather, an attitude we commit ourselves to because it makes progressive insight, emancipation, authenticity and many other things possible. And it allows us to feel like we are part of this world in the here and now -- and not like people who are permanently nostalgic.
SPIEGEL: We live in a world dominated by a chaos of styles. This is best expressed by so-called blob architecture, which tests the limits of design by using features, such as enormous bulges, that allow it to highlight a given style's wide range of possibilities and impossibilities.
Ingenhoven: Indeed, it's quite odd that people would want to preserve every shred of the past while simultaneously promoting the construction of these crazy things. The only explanation I have for the fact that both phenomena exist in parallel is that our society places a particular emphasis on the eccentric. It's either "I'm going to build myself a new castle" or "I'm going to indulge in the most off-the-wall architectural design."
SPIEGEL: Perhaps the crisis is forcing us to become more modest. For example, Ole von Beust, the mayor of Hamburg (who recently announced he would step down), admits that he would not approve the construction of the costly Elbphilharmonie concert hall today. And, for funding reasons, Berlin won't be re-building its Stadtschloss (city palace) after all.
Ingenhoven: In the end, the situation with the palace -- a palace without a dome or a façade -- was even more grotesque. I was involved in the Stadtschloss debate early on. Instead of what I perceived as an illegitimate reconstruction of the building, I proposed a "central park" that would have included museum buildings designed with truly sustainable objectives in mind. Now we have the opportunity to revive this debate. I'm glad that future generations will have the chance to make their mark in the middle of Berlin. The right idea for the site will eventually emerge.
'In Asia, So Many Things Are Being Allowed that Should Never Be'
SPIEGEL: How do you define beauty?
Ingenhoven: The most beautiful shapes are those that are balanced. When it comes to things that occur in nature, almost everything is necessary. But when it comes to the things we invent, it often seems that we have trouble steering clear of things that don't make sense and from ornamentation. Granted, ornamentation does make things more acceptable at first in that it bridges something, such as a temporal or a functional distance. But you don't need it. I think a paraglider is beautiful, or a glider or a sailboat in the America's Cup. Even if you threatened to kill the people who design these things, you'd never be able to convince them to put anything unnecessary on board. Never, ever, ever.
SPIEGEL: That's because speed is critical to the things you mention. But even with a car, it doesn't really matter how much chrome you stick on it.
Ingenhoven: But, even here, you can see that there was a phase in the aesthetic development in which it became what it was actually supposed to be. At first, the car served as a bridge; people wanted to get from the horse-drawn cart to the automobile. Naturally, this didn't mean that they immediately leapt forward to the perfect model. That took decades, and it wasn't until the 1960s and '70s that the decorative element -- the element representing status -- was eliminated from cars. In my opinion, those models represent a high point. And, indeed, to put it a bit meanly, the East Asian versions of Mercedes models come with about as many kilograms of chrome as cars did 40 years ago because the concept of the automobile is relatively new for many people there.
SPIEGEL: How does your principle of necessity apply to buildings?
Ingenhoven: Even if it was built a decade ago, a building has to allow me to live, love and suffer in it. In those exaggerated blob structures, I feel there's just too much that gets in the way. They are enormously deterministic. In a sense, Bonatz's Stuttgart train station is an example of a successfully executed building because its design still works for us as a train station. Every piece of deterministic architecture, which relies so heavily on a supporting framework that is completely out of proportion, is unsustainable. Not only does it demand too much effort to achieve what it wants to, but it also contains spaces that are designed for specific uses and can rarely be reasonably used for anything else.
SPIEGEL: The organizers of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai claim to have created a sustainability expo. But it features a large number of these so-called blob buildings. Is that a contradiction?
Ingenhoven: For me, the contradiction starts much earlier. I think that the motto of the expo -- a better city, a better life -- is actually rather nice, because that's what we really should be thinking about. In the near future, the overwhelming majority of people will be living in large cities. But the way the world expo has been set up doesn't make sense to me. Nowadays, an expo should not offer a forum for countries to show off their stuff, and it shouldn't just be a collection of pavilions. That's so 19th century. Rather than focusing on presenting themselves, it would have been helpful if certain countries had opted to support a project, let's say in Shanghai, to preserve part of the Old City or to rebuild the city. Particularly in Asia, so many things are happening that should never, ever be allowed to represent the city of the future.
SPIEGEL: But the Asian megacities will be the cities of the future.
Ingenhoven: But, please, not like this. I just returned from Singapore. There, you walk out of an airport in which the temperature is about 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit) and where there's no humidity -- which is totally crazy -- and slam into a wall of heat and humidity. And then you go downtown, where there are a few old buildings, which, interestingly enough, were perfectly designed. The verandas are all built to keep out the sun, which is at a steep angle there. That's something you can even achieve with a two-story building by making the roof hang out a few meters more than usual. Likewise, they could use photovoltaic technology to harness the energy of the sun, which is always shining there. But what do they do instead? They build flat facades without roof overhangs, and then they spend a fortune to produce an artificial climate inside. In the long term, the way Singapore is today is unaffordable. We just can't do it.
SPIEGEL: Still, you run into the same contradictions yourself. You preach the virtues of a dense, mixed-use city; and, yet, here in Düsseldorf, you live outside the downtown area in a wonderfully green park with a little forest of your own, in a house with a lot of glass that only the Ingenhoven family lives in. Can you reconcile that with your conscience?
Ingenhoven: To a certain extent, yes. At least there was a house there beforehand. Instead of adding onto the structure, we merely replaced what was already there. When we arrived, there was a bunch of bare trees outside our front door; but we planted trees and transformed it into a healthy forest. I readily admit that this is a difficult debate. Since we have enough space, people in Germany aren't necessarily forced to move to the city. Likewise, one could also say that a family of seven living in a house can always use more space. My wife and I have five children. I think it's unrealistic to believe that people who have a lot of children will get excited about moving into urban areas so they can dance samba on the hot city streets. That's something you do when you don't have any children or when they're no longer living at home. I think that's a sensible cycle.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Ingenhoven, we thank you for this interview.
Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in the June 21, 2010 issue of DER SPIEGEL.