by Jim Weaver
If architecture is the art of giving a city a face, the new face of Dusseldorf, Germany, is indeed something to behold. Located on the Rhine River in northwestern Germany, it has been a major business, shipping, and industrial center for centuries. During World War II, it was almost totally destroyed and in the next decade or more it was rebuilt. While some of its architecturally significant buildings were restored to their former grandeur, much new construction was done quickly and with little concern for attractive design. There were hundreds of thousands of people who needed a place to live and work, beautiful architecture could wait.
Now, more that 50 years later, Dusseldorf is restoring many of its postwar structure, and with the help of some of the world’s top architects, building a new city. The old harbor area, is now called MedienHafen or Media Harbor because of the many media (advertising, film & video, fashion, publishing, and technology) businesses located there. Old industrial factories and warehouses are being
replaced with new architecturally spectacular buildings.
Distinguished architects Steven Holl (USA), David Chipperfield (UK) and Frank O. Gehry (USA) are among those who have designed buildings in the Dusseldorf Hafen. In addition, city’s rejuvenating project includes the new Westdeutscher Rundfunk (German Public Broadcasting), the towering Antenne Dusseldorf (television transmitter and revolving restaurant), and Landtag (a government center).
The “Art and Media Center Rhine Hafen”, better known as the Gehry Buildings, was erected on the site of an old customs building in 1999. The American architect Frank O. Gehry is known worldwide with his deconstructionist architecture. Among his creations are the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. New construction techniques had to be developed to put up the freeform facades of the three Gehry office buildings here.
Prof. Barry Goldsmith, an architectural historian and faculty member at New York University describes the buildings as “Gehry stealing from himself.” “Like his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (where it was titanium, glass, and steel) Gehry uses three different materials white concrete, titanium, and red brick for exteriors side by side. And, his “popping out windows” are just like his Daimler Chrysler building in Berlin.” he says. “The center structure of folded titanium appears “unsteady” like it might topple over but it is stabilized by the “bookend” buildings on either side,” he added.
The Colorium by British architect Will Alsop, is a “stand out” building in Dusseldorf’s Architectural Zoo, a name sometimes given the MedienHafen because of the number of tourists who flock to the district with a map and camera in hand. Built in 2001, the Colorium reminds Prof. Goldsmith of Miami Modernist, better known as MiMo, a style of architecture from the 1950s and 1960s that originated in Miami, Florida. “It was a popular response to the various modernist and post world war architectural movements adding glamour, fun, and material excess to otherwise stark and minimalist styles,” he said. “The top of the building resembles a diving platform, but rather than form following function its form following disfunction.”
Located near the Colorium is the Roggendorf-Haus. A plain red brick structure, it has a number of colorful plastic figures called “flossies” scaling the exterior walls. The figures, which some say resemble aliens from outer space, were originally designed for the German Plastics Museum. They found a new home on the Roggendorf-Haus when art professor Rosalie (She uses only her first name, Rosalie. She was also the designer.) installed them there in 1999. Prof. Goldsmith said it reminded him of the climbing wall on a Celebrity Cruise ship. Calling it “whimsical”, he said it was a creative example of architectural sculpture.
Dusseldorf (with a population of 1.5 million) is the capital city and business center of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In addition to hosting numerous international trade fairs and congresses each year, the city also provides many leisure opportunities. Dusseldorf city is also famous for high fashions and shopping, including the luxury shopping street Konigsallee, or “Ko”as locals call it.
The city’s fine art museums provide many opportunities for art lovers. In 1961, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia acquired 88 paintings by Swiss artist Paul Klee, which form the basis of the K20 Museum collection and helped to establish it as one of Europe’s leading art museum. The K21 Museum concentrates on international art and artists from the 21st century. With Duetsche Oper am Rhein (opera) and the Schauspielhaus (playhouse) the city also offers the finest in performing arts.