Herzog & de Meuron Basel Ltd.
4056 Basel, Switzerland
The competition project for the world’s fair in the year 2000 is used as the incentive for developing a concept of city planning that is to have a sustained influence on the entire urban landscape of Hannover.
The project consists of a vast artificial forest of trees and buildings, in which private and public spaces, organic and nonorganic forms are equally integrated. The project also takes a controversial stand on the decorative and conventional approach to green spaces in modern city planning.
The Expo is the political springboard for an urban architectural development of Kronsberg. For once this development can be approached in a more fundamental and unified manner than usual. Decisive for the success of this event in the year 2000 are the urban architectural advantages inherent to this site. Therefore, in this competition, the central question for the beginning of planning must be: Which urban architectural and landscape design ideas underlie the future site at Kronsberg and the project Kronsberg Forest? What is the historical and cultural background of this project?
The old city of traditional cultures – the medieval city or the city of antiquity, for example – was an artificial entity as opposed to the as yet fairly intact and pristine nature. Fortification walls also provided a clear division of the natural space outside the city and the artificial, i.e. built by humans, space inside the city. Even if in the course of centuries more and more natural landscape (forests and open areas) was converted to cultivated landscapes (agricultural fields and lumbering sites), the opposition of city and country remained clear up until the 19th century, when all European cities began to tear down their fortification walls. The outwardly visible symbol for the traditional dialectic of city (culture) and country (nature) thus disappeared. If within the walled cities there was still hardly a public green space (since city in fact means just the opposite), the absence of nature, so to speak – tree-lined streets and parks now marched in to the new neighbourhoods of growing cities.
The city of the 19th and 20th centuries began to incorporate nature in a precisely constructed form. This type of planning is, for the most part, still functional and pragmatic: introduced, for example, as means of orientation or to give shade. In any case, nature is still understood as an opposite, something opposed to built objects, similar to the city walls before the open landscape of a few decades ago.
Even the modern city, ideally present and recognizable in all urban designs by Le Corbusier (the Plan Voisin for Paris, Algiers, and Chandigarh, for example) builds its identity upon the clearly predominant large shapes of buildings and transport systems embedded in an amorphous nature that serves as a backdrop (as material to be worked), remains passive and forms an ideal contrast to what is built. Such use of nature is also reminiscent of those Cubist collages in which organic, plant like (and often feminine) forms are contrasted with strict geometric forms in order to lend tension to the composition.
The city of the present has become chaotic. At least it seems that these agglomerations hardly belong to a meaningful order and that all over the world their edges are spreading out into nature’s space. Urban space has lost the coherence and crystalline solidity it once had. Nature’s space has been opened up with paths and streets and subdivided and sprayed with blobs of settlements. Natural space and urban space are no longer set in dialectical opposition, no longer cleanly divided by walls but blended together and yet foreign to each other. Around settlements, “nature” has become a remnant area and, conversely, settlements strewn throughout the natural space have not yet formed urban neighbourhoods.
Nevertheless, the city of the present already shows signs of a possible city of the future: the union of natural and urban space into a specific new form of city, a specific form of nature. There will be no universally applicable solutions for this union. Only approaches to solutions that must be reinterpreted for each new site are offered as, for example, here at the Kronsberg Forest in Hannover.
How is the proposed Kronsberg Forest put together?
Out of what is it built?
What is its content?
The urban architectural concept for Kronsberg Forest includes houses, trees, streets, clearings, biological sewer cleaning systems, and playing fields as simultaneous architectural parts, active and effective from the outset, of a single large shape that is visible and legible as the new neighbourhood of Kronsberg Forest. This urban neighbourhood is actually a forest covering the Kronsberg’s ridge and expanding from there in all directions. This forest is, however, blended with buildings organized into whole residential zones, business complexes or boulevards with exhibition pavilions during the Expo.
The forest and the buildings stand in a conscious, planned, spatial relationship to each other. From the outset, the public space, i.e. the forest, is an important prerequisite for the buildings to be put up. The buildings are the necessary architectural complement, lending the forest a specific urban air that differentiates it from, for example, a commercial forest or a public park in the midst of a city. This forest is therefore built in a completely different way than an artificial forest, a city park or a tree-lined boulevard. It stands in relationship to the buildings, oriented to their height or their use, for example.
For their part, the buildings take the trees into account. These are low buildings that, as do Bruno Taut’s Uncle Tom’s cabins, hide in the woods or tall buildings which rise above the woods like Le Corbusier’s Unités or flat installations that seem to meld together with the tree-tops. Trees and buildings also form the common borders, resonating in large arcs, of the Kronsberg neighbourhood. The shapes of these arcs will be somewhat reminiscent of Bath’s crescents, those buildings by John Wood that, in outreaching embraces, orient the city toward the landscape, focus the landscape, and attempt to enfold it within.
How is the form of the proposed Kronsberg Forest to be understood?
What does it say to us?
What does it promise to us?
Whwnce come its resonating lines?
The form of the future Kronsberg Forest is impressive. It is conspicuous. It is different from other forests, the neighbouring Bockmerholz, for example, or Hannover’s other urban forests. The Kronsberg Forest is “built” as a signal, a sign in the landscape that can be read and understood by everyone. Playing on its content, this balanced combination of trees and buildings, of natural space and urban space, the sign-like form of the forest can even become a symbol for an exemplary future development of urban agglomerations. It must be kept in mind that the outer form the forest has not been invented by architects or landscape designers. The form was indicated by several characteristics of Hannover’s urban landscape. It was sketched by the topography of the mountain, by the bordering built sites, and by the curving lines of the highways passing by.
The topography of Kronsberg: the future Kronsberg Forest signalizes the topographically significant site in this rather flat landscape, i.e. the Kronsberg Mountain. In place of the present thinly wooded ridge, reforestation will give this site a new identity.
The bordering sites: the shape of the Kronsberg forest reacts to the surrounding sites – Bemerode, the trade fair locale, Laatzen, Wülferode, Anderten. These places are included as clearly identifiable in the large coherent form of the future city forest. Thus these places can be more clearly differentiated from each other than before. They themselves gain identity and are, nonetheless, directly related to each other.
The highways: The future Kronsberg Forest has a communicative form not merely in relationship to the bordering sites but in relationship to the bordering highways as well. No other urban landscape in Germany is so strongly characterized by criss-crossing highways as this one. A negative space that should be swept under the carpet or made “more bearable” by the addition of noise protection walls and bridges for humans and animals? These highways are an unavoidable reality that must be accommodated in the design and renovation of future and existing agglomerations! The divisive effect of highways should be balanced by forests planned in similar large dimensions, taking in the geometric language of the highways in wide arcs of forest edges and spatially linking it in a new way, joining it in a new landscape. Two goals will be reached through these landscape design measures: the creation of a memorable form for the proposed Kronsberg Forest (and the Expo site!) and the creation of a unified self-evident whole from the pre-existing urban remnant, i.e. the bordering sites and the criss-crossing highways. The proposed Kronsberg Forest is thus not only salient and memorable – a sign or even a symbol – but also very normal, as if it had always been there, and, simultaneously, natural: a piece of architecture-nature.
Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron. Portraits by Thomas Ruff.
Exh. Cat. Herzog & de Meuron and Thomas Ruff. Peter Blum Gallery, New York. 5 June – 5 September 1994. 2nd ed. New York, Peter Blum, 1995, no pages.
Wilfried Wang: “Herzog & de Meuron.” 3rd adv. and rev. ed. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 1998. (= Studiopaperback).
“Herzog & de Meuron. Urban Projects. Collaboration with Artists. Three Current Projects.” Exh. Cat. “Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron: Portraits by Thomas Ruff.” TN Probe Exhibition Space, Tokyo. 22 November 1996 – 9 January 1997. Tokyo, TN Probe Toriizaka Networking, 1997. Vol. No. 4.
“Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron. Portraits by Thomas Ruff.” Exh. Cat. “Herzog & de Meuron and Thomas Ruff.” Peter Blum Gallery, New York. 5 June – 5 September 1994. 2nd ed. New York, Peter Blum, 1995.