Stages, Banks, Hangars. Frankfurt Projects by Otto Apel/ABB
Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt/Main
– 14 May 2017
There is a bit of truth in both characterisations in that the fifth largest city of the Federal Republic did actually acquire some American stylistic features after the Second World War. This has nothing to do with the location, however. Frankfurt is not by the sea, the centre is not built on rock and comparing the Main river with the Hudson or the East River is a bit like suggesting that the Nidda river is a major river of European importance. It has more to do with the armed forces that were initially organised by the occupying powers residing in the IG-Farben Building complex, and later by NATO’s ally the USA. Their families moved from Hanau-Wolfgang or Wiesbaden to Frankfurt, and there was jazz at various points in the city, and US uniforms were to be seen in the streets, and anyone with good contacts with the Americans could get nice things from their PX-stores. This moment in time is captured, wonderfully, in Abisag Tüllmann’s photobook “Großstadt” [City], with photos from 24 hours in the city and its outskirts, at work and at play.
Frankfurt also features two buildings by Otto Apel in the centre of the city. The first is the Römer, rebuilt together with Rudolf Letocha, William Rohrer and Martin Herdt in 1950. Here a new façade structure on an old sandstone ground floor with a symbolic mosaic of a phoenix rises up at the edge of Braubachstraße. The second is Apel’s own office building, completed in 1956, an homage to Le Corbusier’s Swiss Pavilion at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris, and designed by Apel’s architect, Eberhard Brandl (Apel saw himself as an American-style entrepreneur, not as a creative genius and allowed his employees freedom and scope). This building breaks up the monotony of unchanging grids and entices with light and air – two essential requirements of classical modernism. By comparison, the adjoining and facing buildings appear conventional. As far as interior design is concerned, however, international post-war design made an early and prominent appearance in Frankfurt. It was here, during the mid-1950s that Hans Gugelot’s Braun appliances were placed against the brick walls of top-floor apartments and photographed for advertising purposes; it was here that the Documenta exhibition organiser Arnold Bode put the furniture of George Nelson and Charles Eames in the spotlight at the Göppinger Galerie, a place for design, children’s drawings and art from cultures of the world and contemporary fashion. It was here, after all that the high-rise buildings, still with an emphasis on the horizontal – the Hotel Intercontinental am Main and the Bundesbank – were conceived in ABB’s offices. And later the skyscrapers of the Dresdner and Deutsche Bank – significant moments in the urban planning and architectural Americanization of Frankfurt. And even before the establishment of his own office building, as the local architect for the New York office of SOM (Skidmore, Owens and Merrill) Apel realised the building of the former American Consul General at the Palmengarten with its light curtain facade.
Now, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) is showcasing these and other buildings in its ground floor gallery. Better still, curated by Sunna Gailhofer, it is exhibiting photographs of them, mostly taken by ABB photographer Ulfert Beckert. Unfortunately, no specific photographic aesthetics have been followed, and small original and contact prints are closely displayed together. What is striking however, is how much emphasis ABB has placed on interiors: furniture by Knoll International and Herman Miller is prominently showcased. However, other aspects of interior design, such as Christian Holzäpfel’s stackable furniture, which has so defined interior spaces, is not featured. This gives the exhibition, as already noted by DAM director Peter Cachola Schmal, a mid-century feel. However, ABB’s relationship with design goes much further. Among other things, this is the central topic of an event on 20 April 2017 at 7 pm (entitled “Gesamtkunstwerk Dresdner Bank – Das Zusammenspiel von Jürgen Ponto, Otl Aicher, und ABB Architekten”) when the Frankfurt-based graphic artists Markus Weisbeck and Heinz Scheid, designer of the old Dresdner Bank high-rise building (today Deutsche Bahn), under the direction of Oliver Elser, will discuss the relationship between corporate design and architecture in the DAM.