“The Elbtower is a place for everyone.”

Interview with architect Christoph Felger

Christoph Felger (l) and David Chipperfield (r)

The outstanding entry from David Chipperfield Architects in Berlin won over the jury of architects, urban planners and real estate experts in 2018: Christoph Felger, a managing director and the design director for the Elbtower project, talks about responsibility, the challenge and what makes Hamburg special.

What responsibilities does an architect have for a building?
Buildings always have a public or social function. Houses create towns. They lay the foundations for urban quality, for the lives people can lead and the opportunities they have. In that sense we architects carry a huge responsibility for the built environment, and we feel that most keenly with the Elbtower.

Does Hamburg have a distinctive urban fabric?
Hardly any other city in Germany has this many urban landmarks so implicitly interwoven into its overall fabric. Their interplay with the water generates incomparable moments of grace and majesty.

What does that mean for the Elbtower?
The ability to combine the extraordinary with the ordinary makes Hamburg unique as a city. That approach assumes an awareness or perhaps an understanding that everything joins and comes together at a higher level. I think this accounts for Hamburg’s ease with itself and it has inspired the cultural mentality behind our ideas for the Elbtower.

»Houses create towns. They lay the foundations for urban quality, for the lives people can lead and the opportunities they have. In that sense we architects carry a huge responsibility for the built environment, and we feel that most keenly with the Elbtower.«

Christoph FelgerDavid Chipperfield Architects

How did you resolve integrating the Elbtower into the city?
With a very simple but formally effective gesture: by adding a curve and a concave to the high rise. This striking feature in the cityscape tames the imposing volume by softening its height and size, forging spatial links from the Elbtower to both the city and the Elbphilharmonie. Its upward thrust singles the Elbtower out as a free-standing sculpture confident of its own position, while the downward sweep from the slender spire into the broad podium below embeds it within the HafenCity and Hamburg.

How can a building with private functions generate public value?
Our proposal is for a generous, open plinth accessible on all sides, which makes it porous. The light-filled atrium in the middle is the portal to all the indoor uses. We see it as a shared space, interlacing the building with the neighbourhood at street level.

How will current trends in the employment market and the expectations of younger generations influence use diversity in the Elbtower?
For commercially used buildings like the Elbtower, more and more importance is attached nowadays to providing spaces that can ensure maximum flexibility and above all preserve daylight. The employment market and the spatial demands it makes have changed radically in recent decades. We can see the sharp boundaries between working and living gradually disappear. The distinctive structure of the Elbtower is a perfect framework for spatial diversity and flexibility.
ABOUT DAVID CHIPPERFIELD ARCHITECTS
Christoph Felger is design director for the Elbtower. He joined David Chipperfield Architects in 1999 and has been a partner and managing director in the Berlin office since 2006.

Sir David Chipperfield ranks as a master of minimalism with a clear, reduced formal language. Key to his style is exploring a building’s place and context in order to fashion a public space that will bring added value to the social environment. Among Chipperfield’s many prestigious projects are the James Simon Gallery in Berlin, the Amorepacific Headquarters in Seoul and the City of Justice in Barcelona. With offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai, David Chipperfield Architects have implemented over 100 projects worldwide.