MUNICH: Skyline skirmish

Time to read:

4 minutes

That rumble you hear is the battle for the Munich skyline.

Investors want to build two 155-meter (more than 500 feet) high commercial/residential towers west of the city center, and the struggle is on.

Above is the view from a 50-foot hill in the English Garden, about a mile away from the center of town. Near the center of the photo stand the twin towers of the Cathedral of Our Lady.

“Traditionalists” want to keep Munich’s picturesque skyline in which centuries-old church towers are the tallest objects downtown.

Frankfurt skyline. Photo: NightFlightToVenus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traditionalists say the Munich skyline must never look like the boxy skyscraper-filled silhouette of the country’s financial center, Frankfurt.

“Modernists” want to create high rises that provide offices, stores, housing — and a new look to the city’s silhouette.

When I first got here 50 years ago, I was told nothing could be built downtown taller than the spires of the Church of our Lady. The spires reach 99 meters (325 feet).

In 2004, a referendum passed to confine buildings near the center to 100 meters so no new construction could eclipse the towers that symbolize Munich. But the decision was only for a year, and the debate has simmered — or raged — since.

Munich has tall buildings, just not downtown. The Olympic press center says the Olympic tower is three times higher than the spires of the Frauenkirche.

But an executive at the Planning Department says high-rises in the old town, former village centers or long-established city districts are banned.

Where high-rises are OK

So, where are high-rises OK? Planners speak of “city gateway situations.” That means entrances to the city, intersections and crossings of major traffic axes, such as the city-circling Mittlerer Ring (Middle Ring) highway.

Such axes have been identified in the northeast, east, west and southwest parts of the city. High-rise buildings set accents, the thinking goes, forming points of orientation – and providing new apartments. 

In 2004, the Uptown skyscraper went up about three miles northwest of the city center. At 146 meters (479’), it’s still the tallest building around, not counting the Olympic Tower.

The Uptown is called “O2” because the main tenant is phone giant Telefonica, whose brand nationwide is O2.

What’s proposed

The photo above shows an architect’s rendering of the two proposed towers that set off the struggle. Those leaning vertical slashes in between are proposed external elevators. The investors say they need the buildings’ height to make the numbers work.

The towers would bring 1,100 new apartments, 3,000 jobs and a beer garden at the top of one tower. Many who favor more modern buildings talk of jobs, taxes and housing and warn that the growing metropolis will have to build up if it’s not to destroy its treasured green spaces at ground level.

The Bavarian State Office for Monument Conservation assembled the montage above, claiming to show how the towers would look in a view of the 350-year-old Nymphenburg summer palace. But the architects and others have argued that the montage is wrong, showing only what the conservationists want to show.

This is a more recent attempt to portray what the skyline would look like if the twin towers went up (the angled elevators have been withdrawn). The drawing, by the architects themselves, played a role in a public debate between the leader of the investors group and an opposition council member leading the effort to give residents a vote on the proposal.

The debate took place in the editorial offices of the city’s big morning paper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German Newspaper). The irony wasn’t lost on many. After the 2004 vote, the newspaper building’s construction had to be halted for a redesign to keep the height beneath the town’s new 100-meter height limit. The SZ Building is 99.95 meters high.

What’s next

At this writing, the struggle has gone on for more than two years. Arguments for and against the high-rises involve the housing crisis, climate change, public transportation, building materials, tall buildings and wind currents, shade, concrete parking, fire protection, green space, public access and some I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

Meanwhile, a citizen proposal (very powerful here) to block the construction was wending its way through the city approval process.

Next: Terror


2 responses to “MUNICH: Skyline skirmish”

  1. Cheryl Avatar

    My take—the two towers would invade the treasured beauty of the old town. Not sure how the angled elevators would compliment the originality of the landscape. Natural beauty does not need enhancements. Somewhat of a mismatch.

  2. Clint Swift Avatar

    The investors have been on the defensive about the towers and the landscape. I don’t recall any discussion of positive addition to the landscape. They focus on minimizing damage to nature and other issues such as creating public space at ground level and the roof.

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