There is a building that can’t help but catch your eye as you fly in and out of Frankfurt airport, marooned among the autobahns and looking for all the world like a sanitised Walking City.
While Ron Herron, teacher, mentor, friend and erstwhile colleague, had a more esoteric audience for his seminal piece of work, The Squaire has arrived some 50 years later, to teach a thing or two about Over Station Development. First it must be said that The Squaire is a not a perfect example of OSD, and where it is less than successful it provides lessons so that they may be avoided.
Stylistically The Squaire is clean and crisp and emblematic of a certain commercial glamour beloved of the corporate world. Externally it squats formidably, exhibiting a strength and resilience aspired to by those companies that choose to inhabit these buildings. It squats over the railway; the fast trains to Hamburg and Berlin and Munich that speed from its underbelly placing it at the hub of German commerce. Filled with good intentions it is multi-use, with offices, hotels, shops and numerous restaurants clustered within. At its core is the original station roof, a captured glassy carapace that contains and separates the more grungy components of a station concourse from the corporate demeanour of the rest.
Yet as a ‘New Work City’ – their words not mine – the building is hollow, thin walled and uninviting and, on a Friday lunchtime in late September, largely devoid of life. Walking into and through this microcosm city offers little in the way of surprise and delight, it has space with little purpose, no way up or out, no through route to anywhere that isn’t an office or an exclusive hotel, little variety of space and no development of ambience. It is what it is, the biggest office block in Germany, with some platforms underneath.
The design of The Squaire evidently followed that of the station, which had been constructed with little ambition for a location next to one of Europe’s primary air hubs. The opportunities to bring down loads are limited, making the building spans formidable and the structures required to hang any internal commercial space gymnastic. The consequent balance of narrow office space and capacious empty concourses is socially and financially uncomfortable and, with public access limited to that of the original station, the ends of this 660m building are isolated and empty. Wikipedia advises that the construction of The Squaire was economically challenging, with a stop/start programme and ultimately 50% over budget for a building that became difficult to let.
The best of OSDs stem from considered planning and integration of complementary uses that are devised to enable an ebb and flow of people through and within, where the common location of functions can be planned to their mutual benefit and where the structures and services are derived for economy, flexibility and sustainability. Like any good city squa(i)re, the ideal is a destination in which to dwell, on route to somewhere else, at the crossroads of social engagement; a framework upon which public transport and private enterprise can benefit equally and each other.
There is no doubt that the Squaire aspires to most of this – you only have to read the website – but the result appears to be a consequence of the fact that those who build our railway infrastructure and those that build our urban infrastructure are rarely aligned in process, ambition or economic cycle. Effective OSD is complex in timing, funding and risk sharing and requires a closely coordinated response. The Squaire shows what can result if the distinction is maintained.
By way of comparison and a bit of trumpet blowing – Crossrail Canary Wharf, with its similar form, purpose and isolation (in water rather than autobahns). Designed as a stepping-stone from the commerce in the south to the residential areas in the north, as a station, development and public space of equal importance, top-down and bottom-up, with many points of access, numerous routes from transport to garden through leisure and commerce, and already a public and commercial success. A project taken on by the Canary Wharf Group, who saw the benefits, took the risk, and delivered it efficiently, economically and effectively, and all at once.
It is of course quite possible that the moniker ‘Over Station Development’ is imperfect, with its presumption of what comes first. I therefore offer you instead ISD – Integrated Station/Development – along the lines of the Canary Wharf success. I propose that ISD should be the next acronymic bandwagon on which we all jump, one on which each part has an equal status and in which we can all enjoy debating a new approach to OSD, TOD, or whatever – at least until someone builds Ron’s Walking City and puts us all out of a job.